Sometimes we all need an outsider's perspective, especially on something that we're as close to as our football teams. Our proximity to them can make it harder to see certain things, and the view of a rival can make our understanding of that rivalry much more complete and thorough. That's why we've taken a liking to getting that outsider's perspective before big games.
That's why you're about to read the words of Will Beckman of the Offside Inter Milan, who kindly offered to help fill us in on an Inter fan's perspective on Napoli and what this match means -- and it's a lot more than just this battle for first place.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon back in October 1997, when Bill Clinton was midway through his Presidential reign in America and Something About the Way You Look Tonight was top of the UK singles chart, Inter Milan traveled south to the Stadio San Paolo and recorded a 2-0 victory over Carlo Mazzone's Napoli.
It was Mazzone's second game in charge of the Partenopei, having replaced Bortolo Mutti in the dugout after a brutal 6-2 defeat to Roma, but he would only oversee four more before unexpectedly resigning, leaving Napoli to be relegated from Serie A with just two wins all season long. The difference between the teams that day was a header from Fabio Galante and an unfortunate own-goal from Francesco Turrini, handing Luigi Simoni and friends their fifth win out of six games and setting them on their way to a second-place league finish behind Marcello Lippi's Juventus.
The significance of that win? It was our last at the San Paolo. Eighteen. Flipping. Years Ago. For that reason, Interisti of my age (I turned two years old shortly after that match) don't really like trips to Napoli. At all. Since those headiest of twentieth-century days, three draws and six defeats are all we've collected in the league there - and that of course overlooks meetings such as February's clash in the Coppa Italia, where Andrea Ranocchia took another important step towards becoming a cornerstone of this season's substitutes bench. Suffice it to say that history doesn't exactly favour us ahead of Monday night's big match.
Might this season be the moment to end our long winless run? Well, there's a chance. We're heading into this game as league leaders, on a run of four consecutive wins without conceding, so we kind of have to believe that. In reality though, picking up three points on Monday night is going to be all kinds of difficult, because from where I'm sat this Napoli side looks nigh-on invincible. The work Maurizio Sarri has done on this group of players since Rafa left is utterly remarkable, so much so that they are currently the clear favourites for this season's Scudetto (at least in my mind they are).
I mean, where's the weak link in this team? It's certainly not in goal, where Pepe Reina offers more assurance than those two error factories Napoli had last season combined. It's not the defence, where Kalidou Koulibaly and in particular Raul Albiol have undergone a jaw-droppingly extraordinary transformation that I'm still struggling to believe. And it's not in midfield either, where Marek Hamsik is enjoying his best season in a Napoli shirt by a mile alongside Jorginho and Allan, the latter of whom I really wanted Inter to sign this summer.
Oh, and then there's the attack as well, which is, y'know, pretty alright. You guys may not have Captain Froggy acting as your twelfth man this time round, but his absence up front is unlikely to be felt too profoundly with Gonzalo Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne on the scene; two men who are in the form of their lives, and have together scored more goals than Diego Maradona and Antonio Careca had at this stage in the 1988-89 season.
Perhaps the most interesting lesson other managers can learn from this Napoli team is that organisation in attack can be just as worthwhile as organisation at the back - in that sense they sort of buck the trend of Italian football in years gone by, because they don't just defend in the hope that at some point a forward will create something from nothing. (Ahem, like we're doing at the moment.) Everyone is so in tune with each other they can actually score goals against packed defences, which is such a huge weapon to have at your disposal in this league.
All in all, your team is slightly terrifying, but it's by far the most complete team in Serie A as things stand, and it's totally beautiful. It's hard to recall another Italian team that has played football as spectacular as this Napoli side is under Sarri. We'd probably have to go all the way back to the Milan outfit managed in the late 1980s by Arrigo Sacchi - the man Sarri has been getting compared to from the moment he was appointed, who arrived with a modest CV but then proved every single sceptic wrong (speaking of which, perhaps Diego should just keep his mouth shut in future). Coincidence? I think not.
And then of course there is the man himself, who ironically for a chain smoker is one of the freshest breaths of fresh air modern football could possibly have wished for. It's just impossible not to like either him or the footballing principles he instils in his teams. A few weeks back Sky Italia analysed how he has turned around this team's fortunes and came up with the Five S's - Substance, Supremacy, Security, Serenity and Smiling. That last one in particular shouldn't be underestimated, when you see the difference between the Higuain of last year and the Higuain of this year so far.
So, in short, I'm reasonably pessimistic for Inter's chances of overcoming your boys on Monday night. Spirits amongst the players and the fans are higher than they have ever been post-Jose Mourinho, but even that might not be enough to see us through on this occasion.
Beating Napoli would finally give me the confidence to believe that Inter are genuine Scudetto contenders, but in order to do so we're going to have to execute a game plan very similar to the one that earned us victory back in 1997. It was a match in which we conceded more than we created but rode our luck and made sure we took advantage of what came our way, prompting Rai's summariser to remark: "Napoli produced the football, but today confirmed the ruthless rule that playing good football doesn't always bring you points, and vice versa." A match report along those lines on Tuesday morning would do me just fine. See you there...