Inter started it off with their usual 4-2-3-1 with the team unchanged from the Milan derby. Nagatomo and D’Ambrosio started as both full backs and the midfield trio of Vecino, Gagliardini and Valero retained with Valero the most advanced of the 3 playing as an attacking midfielder in behind Icardi.
Napoli played with their usual fluid 4 3 3 making a few changes from midweek and fielding what was undoubtedly their strongest lineup.
Spalletti aimed to surprise Napoli by counterpressing them high up the pitch, he was trying to take advantage of the fact that Napoli had just had a grueling game in Europe and their legs would be tired. It was Inter’s movement during the press which really surprised me and obviously Napoli. Icardi would go wide on the left taking care of Hysaj while Perisc would drop into the left side of midfield while Borja pressed the two centre backs, while the two full backs got high and wide up the pitch aiming to pin back Napoli’s two dangerous wingers who would have to track back and mark them. This fluid movement surprised Napoli and limited the half spaces they could play out the back from. Sometimes Napoli bypassed the press due to the quality of their players but the plan also succeeded in forcing the defenders to make some stupid mistakes and stifling the front trio with Skriniar especially being impressive against Mertens.
Sometimes Inter aimed to press Napoli on either wing trying to push them back and forcing them to take the long option. As you can see there are 3 Inter players in a very small half space with Vecino covering behind them aiming to force Hysaj into giving the ball away.
A lot of the attacking play was centered on the wings with a long diagonal ball from one of the centre backs to the wide areas being used numerous times. This was aimed to get the Inter players forward quickly and hit Napoli on the counter attack. The two wingers cut inside with the full backs pushing high and wide up the pitch. The defenders were also very calm in possession bypassing Napoli’s very high press by playing it out of the back and getting the ball to midfielders who tried to create opportunities. Spalletti outfoxed Sarri in the first half and hit Napoli by surprise.
The second half was much more reserved from Inter with the players holding back and forming a very deep defensive block. The shape in the second half was much more akin to a 4 5 1 with both wingers getting back to stop Napoli’s full backs from advancing and the midfield pairing dropping deep to shield the defence. Borja also dropped deeper to form a triangle with the two defensive midfielders to close out the spaces in the middle. The Inter team were very solid and compact in the second half, Napoli struggled to break them down and the defenders did a valiant job. This came at a cost though as little attacking threat was offered in the second half with Icardi left completely isolated up top, the Napoli defenders managed to keep him out of the game using the offside trap and he was eventually substituted.
You can see in the picture above how deep the team was with even Icardi in his own half. One player went out to meet the ball carrier with the others forming a deep defensive block behind him. Danilo cut inside and Candreva dropped in to his place in the full back position with Perisic dropping into the midfield. This formed something like a 5 4 1 with Napoli outnumbered in the defensive third and they struggled to find options.
This was a tactical performance of the highest order from Spalletti’s boys and it showed the managers tactical awareness and game management. He succeeded in playing two completely different styles in either half each one very effective and he managed to nullify Napoli’s threat largely. A large part of our win were the defenders and Handanovic who were very solid and marked the three attackers out of the game.