Napoli are again taking on the top team in the table, this time against Inter Milan, and the San Paolo is going to be rocking. Napoli can take first place for themselves if they win, and with so much on the line it's good to know what's what with the opposition.
Inter have made vast strides from the team they were last season. Some of that has been from player acquisitions, but there's a lot more to it than just that. How have they forced themselves into the title race? What's improved about the team since last season?
To get those answers, we talked with Luca Pasquali of the Offside Inter Milan, one of our sister sites on the SB Nation network.
The Siren's Song: While Inter's results have mostly been good, their actual playing form has been a bit up-and-down this season, especially in attack. What's been the key to Inter's successes this season?
Offside Inter Milan: I would say their mindset. Players like Gary Medel or Felipe Melo may not be the most skilled footballers in the world, but they have an unteachable quality that helped Inter win matches that they would have lost in the past years -- thanks in large part to them, this team never surrenders. When you pair the hustle of these player with a fair amount of offensive talent good things are most likely to happen.
Another key to the successes has been the defensive solidity. Miranda and Jeison Murillo are proving to be a great match in the back four, allowing the opponents to score just 7 goals in 13 games so far.
TSS: Inter struggled for consistency for much of last season, even under Roberto Mancini. What has Mancini changed in the team's approach to turn things around?
OIM: I don't think that Mancini has changed much of his approach since he took over after Mazzarri was fired last November. He just needed the right players and some time to allow the squad to assimilate his ideas. Fulfilled this conditions, Mancini has been able to breathe a lot of confidence into the team, allowing them win matches even when they didn't deserve to.
TSS: Napoli and Inter would, on paper, appear to represent a fairly well-balanced matchup based on how they've played this season. Who do you see being Inter's greatest threat to Napoli?
OIM: In such an important and, as you said, well-balanced match Adem Ljajic's flashes of genius could cause lots of troubles to Napoli's defenders, but only if he can stay focused and he doesn't feel too much the pressure of the event. The right wing is his preferred role and he can be a double threat here crossing the ball inside the area or moving a bit towards the center to try a shot.
I'm not forgetting about Stevan Jovetic and Mauro Icardi, which are always a danger for the opposing defense. Napoli should also keep an eye on Marcelo Brozovic, who is playing great lately with Inter and with the Croatian national team too. His ability to create plays and to shoot from outside the area could be an important weapon for Mancini's team.
TSS: On the other side of the coin, who do you think Inter should most fear in the Napoli squad?
OIM: It may sound obvious, but Higuain is surely the most threatening player on Napoli's roster. He is a world class striker and he is great at doing almost anything when it comes to put the ball in the back of the net. He is in great form this season and the 10 goals scored in 13 matches so far prove just that.
I won't overlook Callejon's speed and Insigne's outstanding talent though. They love to play on the flanks as wingers in the 4-3-3 formation, but they also like to act between the lines in the spaces opened by Higuain's movements, so the Nerazzurri will have to be very careful and pay attention to this two player too and avoid to zero in on the Argentinian.
TSS: How do you see the match playing out? Will the jam-packed San Paolo crowd prove enough of an edge for Napoli to take first place?
OIM: It's always hard to play at the San Paolo, especially in big games like this one. It will be vital for Inter to slow down the pace of the match to bring Napoli out of their comfort zone like they successfully did against Roma.
The risk of committing the same errors made against Fiorentina is high, but if the nerazzurri will be able to avoid that, it will surely be an exciting and intense contest.