Inter leapfrogged into second place after a thrilling 2-1 win over Napoli with numerous wasted chances and decisive defensive errors.
It was third against second at San Siro in a battle to see who would be the main contenders for leaders Juventus. Wesley Sneijder was dropped again amid a contract dispute, while Esteban Cambiasso took over at centre-back for the suspended Walter Samuel. Antonio Cassano returned from his two-match ban for insulting the referee, but Ricky Alvarez, Jonathan, Gaby Mudingayi, Joel Obi, Dejan Stankovic and Cristian Chivu were injured. Napoli had a full squad to choose from, as Marek Hamsik was able to start despite suffering from flu symptoms, but Goran Pandev was only fit for the bench after a long lay-off.
PSG star Ezequiel Lavezzi was in the stands to cheer on his former teammates along with Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis. Alessandro Gamberini suffered a cut to his nose just 30 seconds in and immediately needed treatment.
Inter broke the deadlock with their first opportunity, as a Cassano corner came to the totally unmarked Fredy Guarin at the back post to volley in from six yards. The Napoli defence did not spot the Colombian’s run from behind.
Edinson Cavani went on the counter and Lorenzo Insigne curled the finish just past the far stick, then the Uruguayan also set up Hamsik to drill inches wide of the same upright.
Cassano burst into the box after a give-and-go with Diego Milito, but Miguel Angel Britos got a crucial and clean tackle to cut him off. FantAntonio was caught between Britos and Paolo Cannavaro in that move, stretchered off, but able to continue after treatment.
Cavani’s header was across the face of goal from Insigne’s lofted cross, but it was offside anyway. Cavani’s acrobatic chest and half-volley was deflected off target, but the pressure was not enough.
Instead, Inter doubled their lead as Guarin pounced on a poor clearance, threaded it through for Milito, who held off Gamberini to prod a low drive into the bottom corner despite Morgan De Sanctis getting a hand to it.
A fierce Insigne volley was over the bar just before the break, but Walter Mazzarri threw on Pandev for defender Gamberini.
Inter nearly made it 3-0, as Cassano found a gap on an Alvaro Pereira through ball and his shot cannoned off the base of the upright.
Samir Handanovic finally had a tough save to make, as Gokhan Inler hit one of his swerving specials from outside the box and his former Udinese teammate got a hand to it.
From the corner there was absolute bedlam. Handanovic denied Pandev from point-blank range, then it bounced on to the crossbar and fingertipped Christian Maggio’s follow-up off the line until Cavani eventually bundled it over.
Maggio was furious moments later when he felt he was taken down in the box by Juan Jesus, though it was only the tiniest of nudges.
Insigne pulled back for Pandev, whose shot was charged down by Cambiasso with an arm, though only after it had bounced off his leg and his back, so the referee waved play on.
Substitute Rodrigo Palacio just failed to connect with a fierce Pereira ball across the face of goal, but Napoli kept up consistent pressure and Pandev wasted a golden opportunity with a weak finish into Handanovic’s arms.
Hamsik pulled up all by himself and immediately called for a substitution. While he was still limping, Guarin played through Yuto Nagatomo and De Sanctis sprinted off his line to smother at his feet.
De Sanctis ran outside the box to start a counter-attack, which Cavani rolled across and Pereira’s completely mis-kicked clearance almost looped into his goal. Replays suggest Pereira kicked it on to his own arm.
Napoli should’ve equalised, as Cavani floated a free kick on to the head of the unmarked Maggio, but the finish was too weak to surprise Handanovic.
Juan Camilo Zuniga had to sprint back to stop 39-year-old Javier Zanetti’s strong run after he had already powered past Britos. Palacio robbed Valon Behrami in the box and dribbled back to flash a shot across the face of goal. It was wide open in the final stages, as Pandev brought it down for Cavani’s strike deflected over the bar.