Football Features

Inter Milan 0-1 Napoli: Five things learned as first blood goes to stubborn Gattuso

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:03, 12 February 2020

It’s advantage Napoli in their Coppa Italia semi-final tie against Inter Milan.

Gennaro Gattuso’s men ran out narrow 0-1 winners at the San Siro and will be looking to get the job done in March.

Inter will be confident of turning around this deficit and consequently prevent Napoli from being one step closer to winning their first Coppa since 2014.

As we catch our breath, here are five things we learned from this encounter.

1. Perfect timing

Napoli have enjoyed few successes at Inter in recent years. Since the last decade began they’ve only left Milan with just two wins and subsequently losing four more games. Going into the contest few, if any, back them to leave with a ‘W’ and hardly anyone foresaw Fabian Ruiz – last netting in September at Lecce — scoring the games only goal. And what a strike it was, from outside the box, after playing a one-two with Giovanni Di Lorenzo, he curled a spectacular left-footed effort past Daniele Padelli.

This was also a landmark win in the competition for Napoli who for the third ever time won a Coppa Italia semi-final leg away from home. The previous occasions came in 1987 and 1989 when they lifted the crown in the former year against Atalanta before losing to Sampdoria. That being said, there’s work to do, given Inter have already left the Stadio San Paolo with a win this season.

2. Back from the cold

Dries Mertens’ future at Napoli is well and truly up in the air. The 32-year-old Belgian forward sees his present contract at the Neapolitan giants expire this summer. He’s yet to enter contract discussions and could very well end a seven-year association with the club. Throughout last month his name was associated with a host of teams, notably Chelsea, but there’s a chance of him remaining in Italy and tonight’s opponents is potentially a future employer.

Any thoughts of this evening being an open audition went straight out of the window as Inter grabbed control from the onset. Napoli, though, had their moments as they were allowed to play. That being said, this was a rare outing for Mertens, before today all four of his appearances under Gattuso — totalling 103 minutes — came from the bench. Nevertheless, across those matches he’d reward the former Milan coach with a goal and two assists. Playing in his now familiar ‘false nine’ role, Mertens who lasted for 73 minutes had just one shot on goal, but that effort wasn’t troubling Padelli.

3. Un-Inter

If there’s one thing Conte’s sides are renowned for it’s their relentless tempo. Some, unfairly, characterise him as a defensive coach, but the former Italian national team boss is someone that puts aggression before aesthetics. His mantra has made him the successful manager that he is and it could finally help Inter to end a 10-year championship drought.

Under him the Nerazzurri average 51.9% possession in Serie A which doesn’t really make them a possession-based team; by sacrificing the ball and territory they can effectively play on the counter, key to this are his wing-backs. Tonight’s game followed the usual script with Inter’s ball possession just above the 50% mark (54.5% to be precise), but those lightning attacks were few and far between, they’d produce 13 shots on goal with none coming from a fast break.

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4. Hoping to renew a successful collaboration

Inter, looking to grab silverware this season, were busy in January completing three signings, all of which came from the Premier League a market their manager really knows. Among those joining was Victor Moses whose time at Chelsea seems all but over. His deal at Stamford Bridge expires this year and Inter have an option to buy and chances they’ll activate it if the former Nigerian international replicates his previous form under Conte.

It was under the Italian tactician which saw Moses establish himself as a worthy right wing-back, together in London they lifted a championship, but that period felt like the last time the ex-winger seemed particularly relevant. There’s every chance of him turning back the clock and tonight’s game felt important given this was a rare start wearing black-and-blue. Antonio Candreva by all accounts is Inter’s first choice but going forward it’s up to Moses, who looked very busy this evening, to provide serious competition and potentially usurp him.

5. Erratic build-up play

There are many words you can use to describe Gattuso, one of which being stubborn, a trait character trait that defined his illustrious playing career. Being subtle and finesse was something the former Italian midfielder was not, he was someone that enjoyed breaking up play before distributing to one of his more elegant teammates, so it’s fascinating to see how his managerial career is shaping up.

It’s a contrast to what we’ve come to expect from Gattuso, but is that really fair? Sure there’s nothing wrong with being reactive, but him championing considerate build-up play from the back is something to get used to. And it’s not as if his players look comfortable, a few times Napoli — with David Ospina in goal — nearly came unstuck, but did their manager rip up that idea of playing – the answer was no. And we should have expected nothing less.

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