Showing the sharpness that has been lacking on several occasions this season, Inter beat Napoli 2-0 at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Tuesday and retook second place in the Serie A table.
The Nerazzurri scored in both halves through Danilo D’Ambrosio and substitute Lautaro Martinez, but after a better start they had to deal with the visitors’ pressure and have to thank Samir Handanovic for closing the game with a clean sheet.
However, the hosts proved clinical and capitalised on their chances, most of which came in an action packed first half. The win also marks Inter’s third straight Serie A clean sheet, a feat they had last achieved in September 2019.
Inter now take on Atalanta in their final match of the season, in a winner takes all tie to decide which team will finish second in Serie A.
Inter’s game plan was clear from the start, when a couple of nice touches from Romelu Lukaku and Borja Valero set up Cristiano Biraghi, whose cross was intercepted just before Alexis Sanchez could get on the ball.
With their defence as high as the midfield line, the Nerazzurri immediately showed they were willing to take risks in order to take control of the game and find the opening goal.
However, Napoli seemed far from being surprised, as the whole team was packed in the last 35 meters and ready to break forward as soon as they won possession.
The strategy proved risky, though, as the hosts’ pressure paid off after 11 minutes, as another Biraghi’s cross found Danilo D’Ambrosio alone at the far post and the 31-year-old was clinical, beating Alex Meret with a left-footed attempt.
Inter’s early lead forced a change of attitude from the Partenopei, who started to come forward more often and almost equalised, when a Piotr Zielinski’s shot from long range was deflected by Lorenzo Insigne only to end up just wide.
Whilst the Nerazzurri’s opposition became an increasing threat, they still found a way to pose threat as Alessandro Bastoni ran through the Napoli back line but was stopped just before he could tee up Lukaku.
Zielinski fired another strike from outside the box shortly after, this time being denied by Samir Handanovic.
The home side’s goalkeeper was tested again on the half-hour mark, when he miraculously parried a Matteo Politano shot, after a brilliant delivery from Insigne had put the former Inter man in front of the goal.
A timely intervention by Antonio Candreva and lack of precision once again dashed the Azzurri’s hopes of getting level, as Insigne stroked the ball with his right foot from the centre of the box only to see his shot slightly deflected by the Inter winger.
Napoli’s metamorphosis looked complete as the team ran tirelessly as though compensating for an initial sluggish approach, but it was Inter who claimed the last chance of a very entertaining first half with a lethal counter-attack which saw Lukaku hold the ball and pass it to Marcelo Brozovic, who forced a spectacular dive by Meret in order to palm out his strike.
The second half started off with the same intensity, as the initial rain was followed by a bit of fresh air and brought the players some relief from the humid heat.
However, after a Lukaku header was comfortably blocked by Meret, both sides struggled to create cut-clear chances as they had done before the interval, notably with a Nerazzurri shirt popping up every time an Azzurri player looked ready to strike.
The only exception came when Eljif Elmas found enough space to drive a low and precise strike which flashed wide of Handanovic’s goal.
The two teams made changes and Inter boss Antonio Conte brought on Lautaro Martinez, and the Argentine emptied all his frustration which has seemingly build up over a poor few weeks by winning a ball in midfield and running stubbornly towards the goal before unleashing a curled strike that went past Meret.