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Serie A title race is wide open

Serie A
Read

Napoli vs. Inter is must-see TV

Serie A
Read

Handanovic gets 9/10 in securing Inter's first clean sheet in 76 games

The FC crew examine an enticing start to the Serie A season, which sees Juventus' stranglehold on Italy threatened.

Inter completely blew away any pre-match anxiety with a rock-solid performance, containing Napoli over 93 minutes to earn a hard-fought 0-0 draw. The Partenopei started well and were superior overall, but the Nerazzurri pressed marvellously and tried to build from the back. A dangerous Dries Mertens shot was just about parried on 19 minutes, only for Samir Handanovic to turn away a Jose Callejon rebound from point-blank range.

Luciano Spalletti's men held more convincingly in the second half, and began with a mazy Matias Vecino run and finish that was cleared off the line. Napoli's mostly inconclusive half nearly came with a happy ending, when the Slovenia international denied Mertens in a one-on-one.

Positives

Napoli may have lost some lustre, but Inter are the first side to keep the Partenopei goalless at the San Paolo since Atalanta back in February. We saw the Azzurri throw the kitchen sink at Inter (including the move which was used twice in last year's 3-0 demolition) and be parried. The goalless draw is a Nerazzurri achievement, not a Napoli failing.

Talk of the (excellent) Handanovic "saving" the Beneamata ignores the fact that Napoli didn't get many chances in the second half. It was also the Nerazzurri's first clean sheet in 76 games. This is a team now whose players run all game, help one another out and don't let mistakes send them into a tailspin.

Negatives

Criticism over Inter's style. If someone could find a way to turn this still-limited side into a total football machine, they'd quit coaching and make their fortune turning lead into gold. One can't rally around Max Allegri's "substance over style" quotes from yesterday afternoon, then gripe at Inter for doing exactly the same only hours later. It's no secret that this Nerazzurri side still has some way to go.

Manager rating out of 10

10 -- What Luciano Spalletti has done in such a short spell is nothing short of miraculous. He has built a team we look forward to watching, and which we expect to see improve, while satisfying those who wanted short-term results. We're having our cake and eating it, and it tastes nice. To say that Inter were saved by the goalkeeper is to ignore that others (including Spalletti's Roma!) have come here and stifled Maurizio Sarri's system in the past 12 months.

NapoliNapoli
InternazionaleInternazionale
0
0
FT
Game Details

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Samir Handanovic, 9 -- This wasn't a "Handa against all comers" performance (look back to the Mancini days for those), but he was stunning in denying Callejon from short range, and late when Mertens got the better of Miranda.

DF Danilo D'Ambrosio, 8 -- Battled throughout the 90 minutes. Lorenzo Insigne was supposed to be the big danger, but D'Ambrosio kept him at bay.

DF Milan Skriniar, 8 -- Penalised for losing a key ball to Kalidou Koulibaly in the first half but was otherwise sensational. It's to be expected that Inter defenders lose their man once or twice. Just because one team plays well doesn't mean the other one played badly, and Napoli are on fire right now. Yet the Slovakia international kept Mertens in his pocket for the entire second half, made seven tackles and his passing was very good.

DF Joao Miranda, 8 -- Impeccable barring the final Mertens chance when he should have pushed up. Was otherwise excellent and on two occasions (including the aforementioned chance) he made up for being late by preventing a clean delivery or even shoulder-barging the striker out of the way.

DF Yuto Nagatomo, 7 -- Shaky in possession but fought tooth and nail with Callejon, and stopped Napoli's attacker from having one of his usual feasts on the wing. A couple of slip-ups but this is the most that can be expected of him.

Napoli's best chance came in the 19th minute, but Samir Handanovic turned two shots away.

MF Matias Vecino, 7 -- That second-half run could very well have led to a goal. Was untouchable after the break, and has been a constant in the middle since the beginning of the season.

MF Roberto Gagliardini, 6 -- Made four tackles and actually put up a very good marking performance. Needs to do more going forward.

MF Borja Valero, 7 -- Very good in the limited time he had on the pitch. If someone can be trusted to keep the ball in a composed manner and help the team move up the pitch, it's him. How he was just another guy at West Brom for one season will be one of life's enduring mysteries.

MF Antonio Candreva, 7 -- The pick of the strikers. Did a Perisic and actually helped out in defence while looking sharp up front.

MF Ivan Perisic, 6 -- Needed to keep an eye on Callejon and Mertens when they combined for that first half one-two. A workhorse after the interval.

FW, Mauro Icardi, 6 -- Not particularly involved, but ran a lot and tried to press his man.

Substitutes:

MF Joao Mario, 5 -- Looked like he didn't belong today.

MF Eder, 6 -- Looked lively. Looked very good in the press.

DF Joao Cancelo, NR -- Came on too late to make an impact.

Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.

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