Inter won ugly against Napoli on Wednesday evening but it was a result that put the Nerazzurri within touching distance of city rivals AC Milan near the Serie A summit.
The 1-0 victory was secured thanks to a penalty converted by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in a match in which the Neapolitans dominated but they struggled to penetrate the Biscione defence.
It probably should not have been a surprise that this encounter was low scoring as only two goals have been scored in the last six league matches between the two teams.
This was also the four consecutive home matches in which Inter kept a clean sheet against the Ciucciarelli, the first time that has been done since 1980.
Napoli had 59 percent possession, led the shot count 17 to 5, and had a passing success rate of 91 percent compared to Inter’s 88, but unfortunately for them, they could not find the back of the net.
Most of the possession from the Partenopei was futile and the Nerazzurri were content with sitting back and absorbing the pressure.
It was a dour spectacle and 80 percent of the shots on target – four out of five for the game – came from the 68th minute onwards. This was when Napoli increased the tempo and actually unsettled the Inter defence at times, even after Lorenzo Insigne was sent-off in the 71st minute.
The Partenopei captain was sent-off for protesting against Davide Massa’s decision to award the Nerazzurri a penalty for a foul on Matteo Darmian and it was the second time that he received a red card in Serie A. He had received a red card in December 2018, which was also a 1-0 home victory for Inter.
With that penalty, Lukaku became the first Inter player since Christian Vieri in 2002/03 to score in his first five home matches in a Serie A campaign.
Along with Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, the Belgian international is one of the players to have scored at least 10 goals in each of the last nine seasons in Europe’s Top Five leagues.
It was an important victory for Inter coach Antonio Conte as well. He became the third Nerazzurri tactician to win at least 32 of his first 50 Serie A games at the club, after Aldo Olivieri and Jose Mourinho, and he became the first Biscione coach since Alfredo Foni between 1952 and 1953 to win his first three league matches against Napoli.
Inter are now second in the Serie A table with 27 points from 12 rounds and they only trail AC Milan by one point after the Rossoneri drew 2-2 with lowly Genoa. The Nerazzurri face league debutants Spezia on Sunday while the Diavolo play title dark horses Sassuolo at the same time.
If the Diavolo drop points and the Biscione win, Conte’s side will take top spot from their city rivals. After failing to progress out of their group in the Champions League, Inter have the opportunity to dedicate themselves to winning the scudetto.