Tensions will run high as Inter Milan host Napoli in a fixture neither side will be delighted to see. Both coaches have personal reasons for wanting to win: Inter’s Walter Mazzarri led Napoli very successfully before leaving on acrimonious terms, and Rafa Benitez was sacked by Inter after just six months in 2010.
More pertinently, both bosses are under pressure after disappointing starts to the season. Napoli may have made a rod for their own backs by finishing third last season and have failed to meet the expected pace this term, losing twice already in Serie A and most painfully falling at the first hurdle in the Champions League. Inter have things even worse, Mazzarri’s job is hanging by a thread after a humiliating 4-1 loss to Cagliari and a jarring 3-0 reverse at Fiorentina. Owner Erick Thohir has been very patient so far, but fans are calling for the axe and Mazzarri is living on borrowed time. His body language and demeanour aren’t encouraging and there are rumours that Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis is offering his players a bonus if they topple him.
The odds show Inter are narrow favourites and the players seem to still be keen to save Mazzarri, but last season’s fixture was a tense stalemate and a similar encounter could be on the cards.
Inter Milan to win – 7/5
Draw – 11/5
Napoli to win – 37/20
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The hosts know a defeat would probably cost coach Mazzarri his job and Napoli would almost certainly accept a draw, so a tight contest is in the offing.
A cagey affair is made all the more likely by both sides’ current striking woes. Inter have lost their most reliable striker so far this season, four-goal Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, to injury for around a month and the burden of the Nerazzurri’s goal scoring has to fall on Mauro Icardi who has three goals so far this term. Icardi can be brilliant, but he is by no means consistent.
Napoli’s goal hero from last season, Gonzalo Higuain, is misfiring badly in the league. Despite finding the net in Napoli’s brief Champions League campaign, Higuain is yet to register at all in Serie A and missed two sitters against Torino. Two goals for Argentina against Hong Kong may have restored some belief, but Napoli’s back line will be much more organised. Without Higuain’s deadly touch, Napoli will rely heavily on Jose Callejon.
The visitors have only found the net eight times and conceded seven so far all season, an average of 1.3 goals scored per game. Inter have scored 11 and conceded eight, but seven of their goals came against hapless Sassuolo – in reality they are hitting the net with roughly equal frequency to the Partenopei.
Inter will be determined to exorcise the demons of their 4-1 drubbing against lowly Cagliari in front of their fans, but home advantage may not prove to be such an advantage. In recent matches the fans have shown their displeasure at the coach and his players and if Napoli can start well the crowd may not be a 12th man as much as an unwelcome heckler.
The hosts will probably play a 3-5-2 and will hope Nemanja Vidic can steady the ship after some early teething problems. Napoli’s formation will most likely resemble a 4-5-1 with Higuain leading the charge supported by dangerous forwards Lorenzo Insigne and Callejon. Benitez, unlike Mazzarri, has the luxury of a full squad at his disposal.
Napoli have been most dangerous in the opening 15 minutes of games, scoring three times, whereas they tend to look more vulnerable during the middle of each half. Inter have conceded three times in the first 15 minutes of their matches, so Napoli could benefit from a fast start. Inter generally get stronger as the first half goes on and have only conceded one second half goal in Serie A this season.
PAUL WATSON (paolowatson) has written about Serie A for Football Italia and wrote the book Up Pohnpei. He is also one part of of Back of the Net, alongside fellow Betting Instinct blogger John Foster. Follow Paul on Twitter.