Inter welcome back controversial former manager Rafa Benitez
Inter entertain former manager Rafa Benitez and his Napoli side at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday.
Last weekend’s big win at Parma eased some of the pressure on Walter Mazzarri’s side as they now have a five-point lead over Parma and Milan, who are fighting for the last Europa League spot.
Despite last weekend's victory, Inter have not wrapped up their own place in next season’s Europa League yet. A defeat Saturday, combined with a Milan win at Roma on Friday, could see the two city rivals separated by only two points heading into next weekend’s Derby della Madonnina
Inter head into the game full of confidence after back-to-back wins over Sampdoria and Parma.
The San Siro has not been its usual fortress for the team this season, as they have only the ninth-best home record in Serie A, with more draws than wins this season.
The team's disappointing home form has contributed to the frustration than the Nerazzurri fans have about this team. Inter fans are not used to seeing only 23 goals in 17 home games, and a style of play that at times has been more reactive than proactive.
Napoli have all but wrapped up Champions League football for next season, and a win or defeat by Fiorentina this weekend will ensure that.
Team News: Inter
Mazzarri has a defensive crisis on his hands as Rolando and Walter Samuel are suspended and Juan Jesus is out for the season. Hopefully Andrea Ranocchia has recovered from injury and will partner Hugo Campagnaro, while Marco Andreoll is expected to make his first Serie A start of the season in a makeshift Inter back line. Team News: Napoli
Napoli will be without the suspended Federico Fernandez, but otherwise should have a fully fit squad for Benitez to pick from bar Christian Maggio, who is still recovering from a collapsed lung.
The Battle Of The Managers
Benitez returns to face Inter for the first time this weekend, a reunion that will give the manager more opportunities to talk about how he was misled and not supported during his turbulent six months in charge of the Nerazzurri four years ago. I don’t expect that Rafa will get a warm welcome from the Ultras in the Curva Nord, but the greeting for current boss Mazzarri will not be much warmer.
Benitez is under pressure in Naples for his inability to improve on what Mazzarri did. Last season under Mazzarri Napoli finished nine points behind champions Juventus. This season that gap has grown to a massive 22 points.
Ending the season with a four-game winning streak and a win in the Coppa Italia against Fiorentina will ease the pressure on Benitez, and Mazzarri could benefit from ending the season with a six-game winning streak.
Mazzarri's style of play, where he takes a cautious approach especially at home, has really frustrated the Inter faithful. Since beating Milan in the derby back in December, Inter have won only two of their past eight games in the league. And in those nine home games they have scored only seven goals.
It is not enjoyable watching a side that is content to grind out games and win them 1-0 at home, especially a side like Inter who in the past decade has dominated Italian football.
If Mazzarri is to win over the hearts of the Curva Nord he needs to play a more attacking style of play for the full 90 minutes. If the club goes ahead and aims for a second or third goal and wins with style, it could help his case more than parking the bus and defending a slim lead. An Inter side that does that can be successful and entertaining.
Despite the two-game winning streak, I am not confident that Inter can make that three against Napoli. The Sampdoria and Parma wins were due in large part to two world-class performances by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. Inter will need another repeat performance by the big Slovenian this weekend, especially with a makeshift back line, if they are to beat Napoli this weekend.
The other factor that has me worried is that the club has been lackluster against Juventus, Roma and Napoli this season. We have not been up to the quality of the big teams and have been soundly beaten by all three this season.
Can the Inter boss then put together a game plan that provides the Nerazzurri with their first win this season against a top-three side?
While I hope I am wrong, I cannot see Inter beating Napoli on Saturday. I can see Inter setting up defensively not to lose, and that might be enough for a draw, but not for a win.
Score: Inter 1, Napoli 1