Walter Mazzarri’s return to the San Paolo was not a happy one, as Napoli beat Inter 4-2 and missed a penalty in an exhilarating match.
This was a huge blast from the past, as Walter Mazzarri and Rafa Benitez both faced their former clubs. Hugo Campagnaro and Goran Pandev also took on their old teams, but Pepe Reina and Valon Behrami weren’t fit to start, while Marek Hamsik, Juan Zuniga and Giandomenico Mesto missed out. The Nerazzurri were without Walter Sanuel, Cristian Chivu and Diego Milito, while Mauro Icardi was back on the bench after a long injury lay-off.
The hosts were smarting after Wednesday’s Champions League exit, as even 12 points and a 2-0 victory over Arsenal wasn’t enough to keep them in the competition. Mazzarri was greeted by a mixture of jeers and cheers, though mainly the former.
Inter had managed just three draws here in all competition since their last victory in 1997, but were unbeaten in away games this season.
There was an early scare for Rafael when Rodrigo Palacio nodded over, though marginally offside, but Napoli took the lead.
Yuto Nagatomo intercepted a pass for Jose Maria Callejon, but the headed clearance turned into an assist for Gonzalo Higuain’s fierce left-foot volley into the far bottom corner.
Moments later Dries Mertens fired straight at Samir Handanovic on the counter, while Fredy Guarin blasted over.
Inter tended to keep possession, but Napoli were more dangerous on the counter-attack and on 25 minutes Lorenzo Insigne’s blistering screamer from the left flank rattled the frame of the goal.
A Ricky Alvarez pull-back was nodded off Rolando’s head by Raul Albiol, as a touch would’ve turned that in from six yards. Saphir Taider chipped up a free kick only for the unmarked Palacio to volley over from a very promising position.
The Nerazzurri equalised with a well-worked move. Fredy Guarin got down the right and Palacio’s dummy allowed the pull-back to go through his legs, freeing Esteban Cambiasso for a powerful finish under the bar from 12 yards.
It didn’t last long before Napoli restored their advantage. Blerim Dzemaili ran on to a Higuain pass, held up the ball and rolled it back for the on-rushing Mertens, who hit an absolute missile under the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
They exchanged places soon after for another goal. This time Handanovic got a hand to the Mertens snapshot and Dzemaili pounced on the follow-up.
It still wasn’t over, as deep into first half stoppages Guarin flicked on a pass with his heel to make space in the box and his effort was palmed away by Rafael, but only into the path of Yuto Nagatomo to tap in.
After the restart a Mertens through ball had released Higuain, but Rolando timed his sliding tackle perfectly just as he was pulling the trigger.
Handanovic plucked an Insigne cross-shot out of the air from a tight angle and Rafael smothered a Nagatomo snapshot. A corner came out to Callejon, whose shot was deflected inches past the upright by Hugo Campagnaro.
Federico Fernandez then needed the sliding tackle to stop Guarin scoring after a misplaced Cristian Maggio pass. Nagatomo dribbled to the by-line and tested Rafael at the near post when trying to set up Palacio, then in the same move on the counter Mertens forced Handanovic to smother his shot.
Palacio sprung the offside trap and rolled across for Guarin, but Rafael came tearing off his line and bravely charged down the shot with his face. Guarin and Maggio clattered into him, so Pepe Reina was ready to come on, but the Brazilian was able to continue after treatment.
Inter went down to 10 men when Alvarez received a second yellow card for a handling offence in the centre-circle.
Higuain hobbled off after a knock and Inter continued to pour forward, but Insigne rolled across the face of goal for Callejon to tap in at the back post.
Insigne also set up Mertens for a low volley inches wide and Handanovic fingertipped a Dzemaili strike over the bar, but Napoli’s defence was still shaky on substitute Icardi.
Goran Pandev came on against his former club and had been on the pitch for all of 10 seconds when he was tripped by Andrea Ranocchia for a penalty. The Macedonian went to take the spot-kick himself, but Handanovic guessed the right direction and palmed it round the base of the post.
Sent off: Alvarez 71 (I)
Saved penalty: Pandev 92 (N)