Napoli v Inter is billed as the biggest match of the season and when it is first versus second, it is hard to dispute that.
Words: Marcello Cossali-Francis
Napoli and Inter are the two in-form sides in the league and are both unbeaten. Napoli have won eight from eight, scoring an incredible 26 goals and Inter have dropped just two points, scoring 17.
Whilst the attacking play has been the highlight, the defences have improved also. Both sides have conceded just five goals each and look to have solved their individual problems from last season.
In Milan Skriniar, Inter have unlocked a gem. His start to life under Luciano Spalletti has been impressive and Inter have kept four clean sheets already, heavily influenced by the Slovakian international. He and Joao Miranda look to have established a successful partnership in central defence.
Napoli seem to have addressed the issues from last season without making any new signings or adjustments – they have finally clicked and they look like a seriously well-balanced team right now.
One factor that may play a part tonight is rest. Inter have no European commitments this year and have had a week to prepare for this game, whereas Napoli were involved in the Champions League away to Manchester City on Tuesday.
Maurizio Sarri rested the likes of Jorginho and Allan, however, with a nod to this huge game at the San Paolo, so they will come back into the starting XI for what could be a full-strength Napoli side. Lorenzo Insigne picked up a muscular problem at the Etihad and is in doubt.
Inter’s weak link is Yuto Nagatomo. The 31-year-old, who cannot be criticised for his work ethic, is in a position where Inter would probably like to strengthen. Jose Callejon will fancy his chances of getting around Nagatomo and if he does, that could spell trouble for Spaleltti’s men.
This is a stadium that does not appeal to Inter for some reason. They have not won at the San Paolo since 1997 in the league, but did manage an away win in the Coppa Italia last year. However, the Nerazzurri will fancy their chances this time around as they are looking close to being back to their very best and after the Derby win last weekend, confidence will be high.
Goals are expected but given their defensive form thus far, it could be a case of which striker takes his opportunity. Mauro Icardi is on fire with nine goals, including a hat-trick against Milan, and has won back the support of the Inter faithful at a time when he looks to be adding that constancy to his game that has not always been there.
Mertens has also started well. Seven goals in eight matches is a very good return for a player who has only recently been unearthed as a striker. But Napoli share the goals around and that is maybe what Inter do not do. Slight over reliant on Icardi? Maybe.
In big games you need the top players to perform and I do believe that if Icardi is on song, then Inter have the ability to overcome this Napoli side and go top of the league. Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol will be tasked with trying to restrict Icardi as best as they can, whilst Elseid Hysaj will have his hands full with the in-form Ivan Perisic, who has three goals and four assists already this campaign.
Napoli were fortunate to pinch a one-nil win away to Roma last weekend and had Pepe Reina to thank for that with his terrific save from an Edin Dzeko header. If the Partenopei can win this match, then talk of a title winning season will only increase in volume.