In-form Napoli continued their 18-match unbeaten streak and moved to the top of the Serie A table last night as they defeated closest rivals Inter 2-1 at the Stadio San Paolo.
These sides both look like they have the potential to win the Scudetto this term, with a high-quality game an excellent advert for the Italian top flight.
Gonzalo Higuaín netted a decisive brace for the hosts to put him back top of the Serie A scoring charts, before the impressive Adem Ljajić pulled one back for the visitors. Yuto Nagatomo’s sending off close to half-time also had a telling impact on proceedings.
With Roberto Mancini’s men pushing for an equaliser at the death, only the woodwork and a sublime Pepe Reina save ensured the Milan-based club headed back north pointless.
I wrote back in September, with Napoli ninth in Serie A, of the home side’s potential to rise up the table and feel justifiably vindicated, while Inter have clearly recruited well and are ready to challenge at the summit of the domestic game.
Here are five thoughts from their clash.
Higuaín’s performance n example for compatriot Icardi
In the end, two moments of clinical finishing from Higuaín were the difference for the hosts, who have been propelled to Italian football’s summit by the striker’s ten league goals this term.
The sides both had an Argentine striker leading the lines, with Mauro Icardi widely regarded as a star of the future for the South American nation and captaining the visitors.
Icardi was largely isolated but he lacked the work-rate and intelligence shown at the other end of the pitch by Higuaín.
The former Real Madrid man’s finishing for both goals was sublime, with only a strong Samir Handanović save denying the striker a hat-trick late in the second half.
Ljajić makes up for a creativity void in Inter’s midfield
Compared to the neat interchanges by Marek Hamšík and Jorginho in Napoli’s midfield, Inter lacked guile on the ball in the boiler room, with Fredy Guarín, Marcelo Brozović and Gary Medel dynamic but lacking tact in possession.
The gifted attacker, who is part of a distinctly able generation of Serbian players, started on the left of midfield but switched into a central role in the second half.
The former Fiorentina man looked to get on the ball and was a constant threat in the final third, linking up well with team-mates and taking his goal with aplomb.
With the 24-year-old only starting five Serie A games this season, Mancini seemingly needs to carve a niche for this mercurial playmaker as Ljajić looked a class above his team-mates last night.
Allan one of the signings of the season
Although Hamšík and Jorginho showed ability on the ball in their side’s win, Maurizio Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation is made complete by the presence of Allan as the third central midfielder.
The Brazilian has the tenacity to win the ball back, craft to pick a pass and engine to get from box-to-box.
With Napoli signing the 24-year-old from Udinese in the summer, it appears that Allan could well be the missing puzzle piece that takes the club from nearlymen to the next level.
The combustive midfielder was again impressive in his side’s win here, with a real case to suggest that his underachieving national side should be watching his performances with a keen interest.
Mancini shows tactical versatility as decisions pay dividends
In the first 20 minutes it was all one-way traffic, with Napoli playing their way through Inter and having the lion’s share of possession and territory.
The former Manchester City boss should be applauded for seeing that things were not going his team’s way and having the decisiveness to make the suitable changes to get the Nerazzurri back in contention.
Mancini swapped Ivan Perišić from the right-hand side to his natural left, where he was much more effective, and changed his midfield to a diamond shape to counter Napoli’s deep-lying ball-players.
This made the game much more engaging as a contest, with lessons to be taken away for the visiting side.
A lack of Italian players in Italy’s current top two
With Napoli and Inter at the top of the Serie A table, it is a welcome change from the inevitability of Juventus’ domination in recent years and good for the state of the Italian club game.
However, thinking about the national team’s chances at next summer’s Euro 2016 competition, there is a worrying trend in the high-flying duo’s teams.
Both starting XI’s featured only one Italian, Lorenzo Insigne for Napoli and Danilo D’Ambrosio for Inter, in a worrying lack of homegrown talent.
Christian Maggio did enter the action as a substitute for the hosts, but both sides’ benches were also loaded with foreign players.
Serie A has always been a landing point for overseas talent, but with the Azzurri’s chances in mind, a worrying lack of Italian players at these clubs is apparent.