Napoli capitalize on Inter mistakes

Posted by David Wilson

It was not the happy homecoming that Inter boss Walter Mazzarri wanted as he watched his side lose 4-2 at Napoli on Sunday, a result that left the Nerazzurri seven points away from the third Champions League spot.

Once again, it was Inter's defensive mistakes that hurt them in a game when the Nerazzurri played better than the score indicates.

Inter started well and should have gone ahead inside five minutes when a brilliant Esteban Cambiasso pass split the Napoli defence open, but somehow Rodrigo Palacio headed over the bar from close range.

Inter might be the top scorers in Serie A this season, but in the big games, where chances are rare, they have lacked that clinical edge in front of goal the other top teams have.

The Nerazzurri have now played all four teams ahead of them in the standings, scoring five goals while conceding nine. In all four games, Inter have created good chances but were unable to convert them into goals.

Inter are expected to bring in a center forward in the January transfer window, but it is not a case of bringing in just anyone. They need someone who can put the ball on target. Palacio had three chances against Napoli and put none on target. If Inter had a more clinical striker, who knows how this game would have turned out.

Napoli made Inter pay for that Palacio miss when Gonzalo Higuain capitalized on a horrible headed clearance from Yuto Nagatomo to make it 1-0. No idea what Nagatomo was thinking, but heading a long ball back into the middle of the goal is never a good idea. Unfortunately, that was not the only gift that Inter had for Napoli.

I recently wrote how Inter have struggled to create as many goals since Ricky Alvarez moved back into a more midfield role. but Alvarez showed what he is still capable of when a good run and cross found its way to Cambiasso to make it 1-1. Cambiasso turned back the clock against Napoli, giving us some of that box-to-box play that made him such a great player in his prime.

After working so hard to get back onto level terms, it was vital for Inter to keep the score there for a while. But once again, when they needed to be strong defensively, Inter could not respond as Napoli scored twice in the next six minutes.

First, Blerim Dzemaili had Andrea Ranocchia spinning like a top and Dries Mertens scored from the edge of the box. Ranocchia was totally out of his depth trying to defend against an attacker who was running at him with pace. Ranocchia seemed to think that running alongside the Napoli attacker -- while Dzemaili ran towards the Inter goal -- was defending!

Two minutes later, it was 3-1 Napoli when Samir Handanovic could not hold onto a Mertens shot and Dzemaili put the rebound away into the empty net. Bad mistake by the Inter keeper.

While fingers can be, and are, being pointed at Ranocchia and Handanovic’s role in the two Napoli goals, Inter’s midfield cannot be let off the hook. On both goals, Napoli passed the ball through and around the Inter midfield much too easily. When beaten, the Inter midfield was slow to react, leaving the defence exposed and outnumbered.

With half-time approaching, Inter got back into the game when Manchester United target Fredy Guarin beautifully controlled the ball in the box and Nagatomo tucked his cross home at the back post. It was a brilliant piece of skill by Guarin, who at times looked brilliant. But his play lacks consistency and he floated in and out of the game too often to be really effective.

So Inter went into half-time only trailing 3-2 despite gifting Napoli three goals. With Cambiasso controlling the midfield, I thought that Inter had a good chance to get at least a point from the game.

But any hopes that Inter had getting back in it vanished when Alvarez was sent off for two bookable offences. The second one was harsh (deliberate handball) and he will be missed next week in the Milan derby.

It was going to be difficult for Inter to get a result trailing 3-2 with 11 men. With 10, it was near impossible and Jose Maria Callejon wrapped up all three points with 10 minutes to go when he scored from close range when Rolando went to sleep on the cross.

It could have been worse for Inter, but Handanovic saved a Goran Pandev penalty in injury time. A fifth Napoli goal would have been unfair as for long periods of play, Inter were Napoli’s equals. The difference between the sides ultimately came down to mistakes -- Inter made them and Napoli didn’t.

Inter will bring to an end their first half of the season next weekend in the Derby della Madonnina. A win or draw will leave Inter no worse than fifth heading into the winter break.

I will do a more complete analysis of the season later this month, but I think that every Inter fan will agree that this is a much-improved Inter side than the one that finished last season in ninth place. While I really liked Andrea Stramaccioni, I think that Mazzarri has done a really good job putting together this Inter side.

They are good to watch, and have the creativity and class to be a top-six side in Serie A. The unknown question is whether they can take that next step up and go from a Europa League contender to a Champions League contender. That question will be partly answered in the January transfer window as Inter desperately need a proven goal scorer and a dominating defender. If the Nerazzurri can add fill those two roles, without giving up too much, who knows how the second half of the season will go?

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