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Inter 0, Napoli 0: Everything But The Finish

Both sides struggled mightily in the final third, leading to a scoreless match and fans everywhere wanting more.

Claudio Villa

Every news outlet spent the whole pre-match buildup making hay of the fact that there hasn't been a draw in this fixture in twenty years. So what happened? Yep. You guessed it.

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Things got off to a hectic start, with Gonzalo Higuain just missing a Jose Callejon cross less than 30 seconds in to the match. As it turns out, "just missing" would become a theme for this match.

Both sides would struggle mightily with finishing and final balls, with everyone coming off not quite right. Mateo Kovacic put a ball just barely wide for Inter early, then Callejon wasted a pair of chances with a poor first-time shot in front of goal and a centering cross to Higuain that almost went behind the striker.

What was of more concern than the final third issues for Napoli, though, were their issues in the back: Miguel Britos was a disaster in the middle, forcing Henrique Buss to stay in tight on the right to cover him. An early yellow card (that should have been a red) forced Britos in to a shell, which helped avoid some of the rashness issues he had before then, but his overly-conservative play really hurt Napoli against a side making aggressive runs from midfield with Hernanes and Kovacic.

Fortunately, Gokhan Inler was up to the task of dealing with those runs after taking some time to adjust to reading them, which was especially helpful since Jorginho had an uncharacteristically poor match. Also fortunately for Napoli was that as rough as the parenopei's play was, the hosts were having just as hard a time of things.

Mauro Icardi's touch was well off the mark today, leading several dangerous opportunities created by Rodrigo Palacio and Mateo Kovacic to go wasting. Hernanes, who had been in magnificent form of late, was virtually a non-factor for Inter before being subbed off halfway through the second half. Their makeshift back line also really struggled with Napoli's attacking runs, but with Dries Mertens struggling to distribute effectively, Napoli were unable to capitalize on that flaw.

The second half was very much like the first, with neither side having an easy time finding the right final ball, and unable to capitalize on it when they did. Higuain and Inler both missed glorious chances, with Inler's especially hurting. The Swiss international made a fantastic run to get free with the ball and caught Handanovic in no-man's land, but went for the harder near-post shot instead of aiming towards the far post, and the ball clanged safely off the post to deny Inler a fantastic goal.

Not long after, Pepe Reina tried to punch a ball clear in the box, and instead cleared Raul Albiol of consciousness. The Spanish center back was down for quite awhile, and once he did get back on the pitch it seemed to take several minutes for him to really get his legs back under him. It was a scary moment, but wasn't the last one of the match for Napoli.

Marek Hamsik was finally brought in to the match for Mertens after 70 minutes, despite Napoli's performance screaming for that move for the entire second half. Fortunately for Napoli supporters, Hamsik looked better than he had in some time, dropping in a number of excellent passes that caused Inter's defense a lot of stress.

Sadly, that uptick in creative quality led to Inter stepping up their "beat on Higuain every time he thinks about touching the ball" campaign that had been going on all match long, ending in Marco Andreolli cleaning out Higuain as he tried to shoot in the 84th minute. Higuain went down in immediate and obvious pain, clutching at his lower leg and covering his face. The physios that came on immediately started treating it as a serious injury, stretchering Higuain off and taking him to the locker room after only minimal additional treatment on the sideline. Hopefully the injury isn't serious and Pipita isn't out for long, but it looked quite serious.

That injury seemed to take the wind out of the match, and the last few minutes of regular time and five minutes of added time passed without much incident. Despite the scoreless draw, the match itself was actually rather entertaining (probably much more so for the neutrals than for Inter or Napoli fans), and Napoli did well to overcome some poor individual performances and keep Inter under control.

Napoli now have an eight-point lead over Fiorentina for third place, meaning that with three matches to go, third is all but sewn up. Next up on the docket is the Coppa Italia final in Rome next weekend, and is Napoli's last chance to win a trophy this season. Hopefully the issues from today get ironed out during the week and they step out on to the pitch at the Olimpico ready to kick some Viola butt.

Inter Milan: Handanovic; Campagnaro, Ranocchia, Andreolli; D'Ambrosio (Zanetti '68), Hernanes (Guarin 74'), Cambiasso, Kovacic, Nagatomo; Palacio, Icardi (Kuzmanovic 81')

Yellow cards: Hernanes 61'

Napoli: Reina; Henrique, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Inler, Jorginho; Mertens (Hamsik 70'), Callejòn, Insigne; Higuain (Pandev 87')

Yellow cards: Britos 26', Henrique 38', Ghoulam 82'