It’s finally happened. There are no more undefeated teams this term in any of Europe’s top five leagues. Napoli were the last to hold on, but on Sunday evening, Inter Milan emerged victorious against them at the San Siro, despite Piotr Zielinski breaking the deadlock for the visitors after 17 minutes. A VAR review established that Kalidou Koulibali had handled the ball inside his own box and Hakan Calhanoglu equalized from the spot in the 25th minute, and a brilliant header from Ivan Perisic turned the contest around just before halftime. Lautaro Martinez added Inter’s third in the 61st, and the fantastic shot from Dries Mertens in the 78th only provided consolation for the league leaders.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone from the Serie A, some believe Napoli’s Victor Osimhen to be the best striker currently playing in the Italian top flight. The Nigeria international has so far scored five and assisted two goals in 11 league appearances for his club, while in the Europa League he has four goals from three matches to his name.
However, Osimhen didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on Sunday; in fact, it was a match he’ll want to forget as soon as possible. He worked hard and fought for every ball in his proximity, but nerves threatened to be the cause of his downfall straight from the start. He was rightly booked in the 10th minute already and continued to put in rather rash challenges, which might have easily resulted in his expulsion from the match.
He was probably saved the risk of such a fate by a completely different one, though he would’ve probably preferred a red card to what did actually happen. Ten minutes of the second half had gone when Osimhen was involved in a head clash with Inter defender Milan Skriniar, resulting in his withdrawal from the match and the introduction of Andrea Petagna from the bench. It was later revealed that Osimhen has broken his cheekbone and will require surgery, which is likely to rule him out for quite a while. It is a blow not only for Napoli and Osimhen himself, but also for the Nigeria national team who are set to play at the upcoming African Cup of Nations this winter.
📌 Gli esami strumentali effettuati a Victor Osimhen al termine della gara Inter-Napoli hanno evidenziato fratture multiple scomposte dell’orbita e dello zigomo sinistro. pic.twitter.com/NkQTIRRMQz
— Official SSC Napoli (@sscnapoli) November 21, 2021
Another clash of heads, involving Inter substitute striker Edin Dzeko and Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina, occurred towards the end of the match, though both went on playing with their heads in heavily bandaged.
A look at the stats from this match tells an interesting fact. Napoli had the ball at their feet more than the home side (55% of the time) as their midfielders sought to keep the proceedings under their control. However, that task proved tough indeed against a very determined Inter who adopted a rather tough defensive approach and direct attacking style. Seeing less of the ball, the Nerazzurri took a total of 17 shots towards David Ospina’s goal (compared to Napoli’s nine), forcing the Colombia international into four fine saves aside from the three goals scored.
Fabian Ruiz and Andre Zambo Anguissa were continuously outnumbered in the middle of the park by Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic and Calhanoglu, with the latter dropping deeper than he usually played while at AC Milan to help. To strengthen this aspect even further, Inzaghi replaced the Turkey international with Arturo Vidal just after the hour-mark. Perisic and Matteo Darmian did their job of providing width flawlessly, which meant there was rarely anything worth trying to exploit on the flanks for the visitors. Quite apart from that, Perisic’s goal was a true work of art.
The way Simone Inzaghi’s men reacted to going down early showed an extreme level of resilience, coupled with a passion the side-effect of which was Inzaghi getting booked for screaming for a penalty when the ball hit Koulibaly in the arm ahead of Calhanoglu’s equalizer. Interestingly enough, Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti was among those trying to calm his Inter counterpart down in a friendly and respectful fashion.
The race goes on
The match obviously had direct impact on the title race. Had Napoli won, Inter would have now been 10 points behind them, and even though there is still a large part of the season to go, it would certainly have been a tangible deficit which the Nerazzurri would struggle to overcome. As it is, the gap stands at five points – a much more manageable feat for the team chasing to close it down.
Inter’s city rivals AC Milan sit in between, with the same number of points (32) as Napoli at the top of the table. The Rossonerri also suffered their first defeat of the Serie A campaign this weekend, succumbing to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Fiorentina with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dusan Vlahovic hitting the back of the net twice each.
Atalanta are in fourth place with 25 points, and it may seem rash given that it’s only November, but they seem to be leading the pack that could be called ‘the best of the rest’, the teams that should be involved in a desperate scramble for the final spot that leads to playing in the Champions League next term. AS Roma (22), Lazio, Fiorentina, and surprisingly enough, Juventus (all 21 points) are in there as well.
Naturally, there may be plenty of upsets to come between now and the end of the season, but right now, it seems the title race is a three-way one in which Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli will be working hard to fight off the two Milan teams.