Reigning champions Inter Milan attempt to close the gap to leaders Napoli on Sunday evening, when the two Serie A superpowers convene at San Siro.
While the third-placed Nerazzurri were held to a 1-1 draw in the Milan Derby last time out, their visitors extended an unbeaten start by sharing the same scoreline with in-form Verona.
Still trailing both this weekend’s opponents and their city rivals by seven points after the season’s first Derby della Madonnina a fortnight ago, Inter’s hopes of back-to-back Scudetti may rely on turning the tide in games such as Sunday’s.
The visit of Napoli to Stadio Giuseppe Meazza follows a tense draw with Milan before the international break, when they missed a penalty and several other chances to win before Alexis Saelemaekers almost consigned them to defeat with a late shot that struck the post.
Since a loss to Lazio in the middle of last month, Simone Inzaghi’s side have gone unbeaten at home and abroad, with only a draw in the Derby d’Italia previously preventing them from claiming five straight wins. Inter are also second behind Real Madrid in their Champions League group and in a good position to progress, should they post some positive results in the next few weeks.
However, the Scudetto holders seem to have lost a little of their ruthless edge since Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku departed the scene during the summer and are winless in four league games this term against sides who finished in the top seven last season.
Furthermore, Inzaghi’s highest loss percentage in Serie A has been against his personal nemesis, Napoli, having been beaten by the Partenopei a remarkable seven times out of 10 while managing Lazio. The Neapolitans have also scored more set-piece goals than any other Serie A side so far (11), while Inter have conceded the highest share from set pieces – seven out of 13.
The Nerazzurri, though, remain unbeaten in their last four league matches against their southern rivals, and thanks to a new-look attack, have scored the most goals in Serie A this season.
While the champions may be scoring at will – averaging nearly 2.5 goals per game – Napoli have conceded the fewest times in the Italian top flight by far, and their resilient rearguard has restricted opposing sides to a miserly four goals throughout the first 12 matches of a promising campaign.
Former Inter coach Luciano Spalletti has seen his squad win 10 of their first 12 Serie A fixtures to stay locked on points with Milan at the top of the table as the first third of the season draws to a close.
They were, though, denied a fourth straight victory just before the international break, as Verona held firm to secure a 1-1 draw at Stadio Maradona, and end the Azzurri’s perfect home record in the league.
Nonetheless, Napoli are unbeaten in their last 21 top-flight games, with their last defeat coming back in April, versus Juventus. Such a consistent run sees them closing in on a club record of 26 set four years ago, but they now face a stern test of their credentials to topple Inter as champions next spring.
Star striker Victor Osimhen has recently experienced his first dry spell since an electric start to the season but was on target during both of Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers, so he should be back to his irrepressible best on Sunday. With the former Lille forward on song and a rock-solid defence at his service, Spalletti should be confident of taking three points from his return to San Siro.
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
Napoli Serie A form:
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We say: Inter Milan 1-1 Napoli
Inter are seldom beaten on home soil, so will not succumb easily to the Napoli juggernaut which has powered through Serie A at the start of this season.
This encounter has a low-scoring draw stamped all over it, as both sides are well-organised defensively but contain too many attacking talents to be held by the other for a full 90 minutes.