It was 3rd vs 5th in the Serie A on Sunday evening as Napoli looked to avenge their disappointment of being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League on goal difference when they hosted Inter Milan. Both sides made changes ahead of the tie as Napoli were without both Hamsik and Pepe Reina through injury with Lorenzo Insigne and Rafael replacing the injured duo, and Nagatomo returning at left midfield for Inter.
Inter started the game the brightest as inform striker Rodrigo Palacio saw the first chance of the game come his way, as a through ball over the top from Cambiasso was headed over by the Argentine as Albiol and Reveillere stood absolutely motionless at the back. On reflection, Palacio will certainly feel he should have done better with the chance, and there was no questioning that he had squandered a golden opportunity to open the scoring.
Palacio was left to rue his missed opportunity just minutes later as Napoli’s first attack led to a brilliant goal from Gonzalo Higuain. A long floated ball by Inler towards Callejon was poorly headed away by Nagatomo in which the projection of the ball fell perfect for Gonzalo Higuain to unleash a thunderbolt of an effort on the volley, which flew like a missile into the bottom corner from 18 yards on 9 minutes.
After Inter had such a bright start, Napoli began to feed off the early goal, chasing the ball down when Inter were in possession, and such pressure allowed Dries Mertens to break and cut inside from the left, but the Belgian didn’t get enough behind his shot and it trickled into the hands of Handanovic.
Inter created an opportunity to level after producing an excellent passing display in which the Napoli midfield were completely stretched, as Taider found himself in front of goal but the Frenchman had drifted offside unbeknown to the Napoli defence who seemed totally unaware of his presence in the box.
Inspired by this move and looking to bring the scores level Palacio shifted the ball off to Fredy Guarin who found acres of space in a central position 25 yards from goal. The Columbian produced a powerful right footed effort but could not keep the ball down and Rafael was able to watch as the ball sailed over his cross bar.
Lorenzo Insigne nearly bagged himself his first goal in the league for Napoli this season in stunning fashion in the 25th minute. Mertens brilliantly turned away from his man to find Higuain in which the Argentine International picked out Insigne who was an overlapping to his right but the Italian saw his rocket of an effort crash back off the post to safety.
Inter Milan then missed another great opportunity to level the match when a freekick from Gaurin was brilliantly clipped over the wall for Palacio to run onto and produce a fierce right footed effort completely unchallenged, but his effort flew high and wide over the bar. In space of 30 minutes, the Napoli defence had been caught out napping 3 times and Inter had wasted 3 great chances in this time, much to the absolute fury of Rafa Benitez regarding his sides lacklustre defending, whilst Inter coach Walter Mazzarri stood with his head in his hands in utter disbelief.
Inter finally got the goal they had deserved, producing a superb move and finally exploiting the Napoli defence when Guarin produced an good low cross which Palacio allowed to run through his legs, and a slight flick from Alvarez sent the ball straight to the feet of Cambiasso who made no mistake firing the ball into the back of the net.
Napoli responded almost immediately as Inter lost focus and allowed Dzemaili to latch onto a magnificent ball from Higuain, whose flick with the outside of his boot spun the ball between two defenders and as the midfielder held up the ball looking for support, Dries Mertens came charging in to strike an absolute beauty curling the ball around Handanovic to put the hosts back in front.
Within 2 minutes of the restart, Napoli made it 3-1 when another flying attack spearheaded by Mertens, unleased another belter of a shot which could only be parried by Handanovic straight into the path of Dzemaili who following up the original effort was left with a tap in from 5 yards.
The first half had seen plenty of goalmouth action, high pressure and outstanding work rates from both teams, but the goals were not done yet for the first half as in stoppage time Inter pulled one back as Guarin cut the ball back across the 6 yard box and keeper Rafael could not get a strong enough hand on the cross and there was Nagatomo onside and completely unmarked at the back post to tap into the empty net.
The whistle was blown after the restart to end what had been a superb half of gutsy football that ticked all the boxes any paying spectator would wish to see.
Into the second half and Inter nearly conceded a 4th when a clearance from Raul Albiol was collected by Mertens who slipped in a great ball to Higuain and just as the striker when to unleash a right footed shot, in came Rolando with a superbly timed sliding challenge to deny Napoli what looked like a certain goal.
Nagatomo went close to snatching an equaliser for Inter as his shot on 55 minutes was almost a like for like replica of the Goal scored by Dries Mertens in the first half, as the Japanese International attempting a curling effort towards the bottom corner saw his effort denied by Rafael.
Summer signing from Real Madrid, Jose Callejon, went agonisingly close to continuing his great goal scoring form this season when his effort from outside the area following a poor clearance was deflected inches wide by Campagnaro when it was destined for the bottom corner with Handanovic left stranded in the centre of the goal blinded by defenders in front of him.
A cheap give away by Maggio very nearly gifted Inter an equaliser as Gaurin skipped past Albiol onto to be denied a shot on goal by Fernandez who showed great determination and courage to get a vital touch of the ball and take it away from the path of Guarin.
Both sides began to look to hit each other on the counter with first Nagatomo for the visitors and then Inler both seeing their efforts denied by the goalkeeper.
Another woeful display of defensive duties at the back by Napoli almost allowed Guarin to equalise as Rodrigo Palacio had beaten the offside trap, and as the back line were appealing for offside his whipped in cross looked for certain it would be finished off by Fredy Guarin but Rafael produced an excellent goalkeeping display to deny the Inter a goal, but Guarin really should have scored.
Inter Milan had their attacking promise stopped right in its tracks when Ricky Alvarez was dismissed for a second yellow card having allegedly, deliberately handled the ball, which even in real time was a very harsh decision to award a second yellow for.
The game was finally sealed not long after the red card was shown as after a good run from Insigne on the left, his scuffed effort on goal turned into a great cross for Jose Callejon to score his 8th goal of the season and seal the points in the process.
Napoli had the chance to score even more when Mertens nearly grabbed his second of the match as Callejon showed great composure to bring the ball down under control and offload a cross field ball for the Belgian but his shot at full stretch was steered into the side netting.
Inter nearly scored a consolation when a dangerous ball into the box from Palacio was gathered by Rafael just in the nick of time before Guarin could get on the end the cross.
Pandev came on in the 90th minute for Napoli and made an immediate impact when he produced a lovely stop and spin turn with the ball in the box, only to be tripped by Rolando on his exit and win the home side a late penalty, which the Macedonian duly took but saw his effort well saved by Handanovic keeping the score at 4-2.
Napoli made it 11 wins this season but Rafa Benitez will certainly have some concerns regarding his sides defensive performance, whilst Mazzarri could only be left to rue a number of golden opportunities’ that were wasted by his side.
Man of the Match: Dries Mertens (Napoli)