Inter dent Napoli's title tilt as Udinese and Empoli share spoils

Inter dent Napoli's title tilt as Udinese and Empoli share spoils
Edin Dzeko is congratulated by Romelu Lukaku after netting the winner for Inter
Edin Dzeko is congratulated by Romelu Lukaku after netting the winner for Inter
An Edin Dzeko finish 11 minutes into the second half saw Inter Milan inflict Napoli's first league defeat of the season to get their Serie A campaign back under way in the worst possible way. In the league's other late game, 10-man Empoli held Udinese to a 1-1 draw.

Inter Milan 1 Napoli 0

Inter Milan came flying out in the first half, playing with such incredible intensity and aggression, that Napoli could not handle their opponents in the opening minutes.

However, for all of their great play going forward and all the pressure, Inter were wasteful in front of goal as Romelu Lukaku and Federico Dimarco both missed great chances on goal.

It took the visitors until midway through the half for them to get a foothold in the game but there was a look of rustiness, possibly due to the World Cup break, whereas Inter looked fitter and fresher.

The host of chances continued for the home side as a well worked team move which saw Lukaku crossing the ball to strike-partner Dzeko, who laid the ball off to Matteo Darmian but the full-back scuffed his effort over the bar.

Lukaku was played through right before the break by Nicolo Barella, but as was the theme of the half, his effort went whiskers over the bar.

Napoli would have been grateful to see half time with their clean sheet intact, whereas Simone Inzaghi would have been frustrated with his side’s finishing.

Inter got off to a great start to the second half, deservedly taking the lead after 10 minutes when a sublime Dimarco cross was met by a bullet Deko header.

Luciano Spaletti’s side looked a shadow of the Napoli that took the league by storm before the Winter break, and even after going one-goal behind, Inter continued to keep control of the tempo.

Napoli struggled to break down the Inter defence that dealt with everything coming their way, as they battled for every single ball knowing just how important the victory would be.

Ultimately, the Nerazzurri held on for the vital victory as the away side struggled to threaten anything close to an equaliser.

Victory for Inzaghi’s side edges them back into the title race as they are now eight points off the leaders Napoli, who still have a cushion of five points over second placed AC Milan.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Edin Dzeko (Inter Milan)

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Udinese 1 Empoli 1

Udinese made it eight Serie A games without a win, but consolidated eighth position in the table after coming from behind to secure a 1-1 draw, thanks to a Roberto Pereyra equaliser provided by crowning jewel Destiny Udogie.

With both teams returning from a prolonged International break, a sense of expectation filled the Dacia Arena – seemingly erasing the fact that Udinese had not tasted home victory since mid-September.

Their spirits were somewhat dampened inside three minutes as a rejuvenated Empoli side, buoyed by their new loanee Francesco Caputo, found the net with ease. Returning to the club after being sold in 2019, he was found with a defence-splitting pass.

But despite bearing down on goal himself, he unselfishly laid it on a plate for teenager Tommaso Baldanzi, who became Empoli’s top scorer with his third strike in only six starts.

Caputo was signed to fix the lack of potency in front of goal, which had seen Empoli score only five times on the road prior to tonight, and Udinese were slow to recover from the shock value he brought at such an early juncture.

However, I Friulani eventually grew into the game, seeing a Beto header whistle over the crossbar, before Pereyra had Guglielmo Vicario scrambling across his goal line, as he curled a long range effort, eventually finding the right-hand post via a wonderful fingertip save.

Udinese coach Andrea Sottil is a man well versed in providing reactionary team talks, with his side falling behind for the tenth time in their last 12 matches, and he was almost provided with the perfect response moments after the break, with Isaac Success flashing marginally wide on the half turn.

Tottenham Hotspur loanee Udogie was also a beacon of hope for the home side, with his marauding runs down the left causing all sorts of problems. And he was key to a timely leveller after cutting back for Pereyra, who nonchalantly stroked the ball home left-footed.

In the latter minutes, Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro was dismissed for a second offence, after pulling down Udogie as he looked to get into the box once more.

It was grim at times for Empoli thereafter, but the away side had just enough resolve to hold onto the draw and move marginally further away from the drop zone, while also ending a run of seven head-to-head home wins.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Destiny Udogie (Udinese)

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