Inter 0-1 Napoli: Fabulous Fabian strike earns Coppa first-leg lead
In a match devoid of quality it was left to Fabian Ruiz to earn Napoli a slender first-leg advantage over Inter in their Coppa Italia semi.
The Spain midfielder lit up an otherwise turgid San Siro affair with a finish right out of the top drawer shortly before the hour in Milan.
It proved the decisive moment against an Inter side – playing just three days on from beating Milan in the derby – lacking in creativity and Antonio Conte’s men will have to show more in a huge Serie A clash with Lazio on Sunday.
Napoli have been well off the pace in the league but Gennaro Gattuso will take heart from a resolute defensive display that sets them up well for the return tie on March 5.
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) February 12, 2020
Dries Mertens scooped over from 20 yards during a drab opening, in which Lautaro Martinez should really have done better with a free header from Cristiano Biraghi’s floated left-wing cross.
Daniele Padelli made a fine one-on-one stop when Mertens slipped in Giovanni Di Lorenzo, with Napoli’s protests that the follow-up was handled by Stefan de Vrij going unheard.
Inter, as in the first half, attempted to play on the front foot without troubling David Ospina early in the second period – aside from a decent header from Romelu Lukaku that the keeper held with ease.
The game needed a flash of brilliance and Fabian delivered in the 57th minute, playing a neat one-two with Di Lorenzo before bending a fine left-footed effort past a despairing Padelli.
An equaliser almost arrived during a mad scramble 15 minutes from time where Lukaku and Christian Eriksen each nearly beat Ospina, who gratefully smothered the ball.
Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez provided some impetus off the bench and fellow substitute Danilo D’Ambrosio almost prodded Lukaku’s last-minute flick-on past Ospina but Inter paid the price for a largely toothless display.
What does it mean? Big few weeks for Inter on the horizon
Inter may be leading Serie A but before they play Napoli again the Nerazzurri face Lazio, Sampdoria and Juventus in the league and a Europa League last-32 double header with Ludogorets. Chasing this tie at the culmination of that run is not ideal.
Fab by name…
In a game lacking in prolonged quality, it was left to Fabian to steal the headlines with his wonderful goal. It was reward for a disciplined performance in midfield.
‘King’ Lukaku and Martinez struggle
Lukaku declared “there is a new king in town” after scoring in Inter’s derby beating of Milan. There is no denying the impact he has had at Inter but there was little regal about his performance on a frustrating evening. Martinez had a couple of decent opportunities and was also ineffective.
Inter return to Serie A action with mouth-watering showdown at fellow title challengers Lazio on Sunday, the same day Napoli travel to Cagliari.