Inter and Napoli brace for early title showdown as the Serie A leader plays the defending champion

MILAN (AP) — Inter Milan coach Simone Inzaghi will be hoping for less of a “Pazza Inter” performance when the Serie A leader visits defending champion Napoli on Sunday.

Translating to “Crazy Inter,” the nickname came about after years of spectacular implosions and rollercoaster matches. Even one of the club’s anthems is called "Pazza Inter."

And the Nerazzurri lived up to their long-held nickname in Wednesday’s Champions League match at Benfica where — following a first-half horror show — they came back from three goals down to draw 3-3 and could even have won the match had Nicolò Barella’s stoppage-time strike not hit the crossbar.

“We talked at halftime and we came back out with a different spirit,” Inzaghi said. “If Barella hadn’t hit the woodwork, it would have been a historic victory.”

With Inter having already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, Inzaghi had the luxury of being able to rest several players between two important matches in Serie A and he made eight changes from the 1-1 draw at Juventus.

However, he explained it was Inter’s poor approach to the match that led to its disastrous first-half performance rather than the change of personnel and that was illustrated by the team clawing back two goals before Inzaghi made his first substitutions in the 68th minute.

“We changed the team a lot,” Inzaghi said. “I have the opportunity of having so many starters. Not 11 but 20 and I have to try to use them all.

“I’m happy with our second-half reaction. We all should have done better in the first half, me included. But this team knows where it wants to get to, knows how hard it works every day and I know I can count on the whole squad.”

Nevertheless, it is likely to be a much-changed Inter team that takes to the field at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday evening.

Inter is top of Serie A, two points above Juventus and eight above fourth-placed Napoli. AC Milan is third, six points behind its city rival.

Napoli, which recently changed its coach, also had a difficult match midweek as it lost 4-2 at Real Madrid.

The match has already been billed as a title showdown, even at this early stage of the season.

“It absolutely is, Napoli is a really great team, the reigning Italian champion and deservedly so,” Inzaghi said. “Like us they had a tricky away match, we will both have difficult trips back so we’ll be equal, it will be a great battle, both teams will want to do their best.”

However, Napoli has not played like the defending champion for much of this season and that led to the dismissal of Rudi Garcia — who replaced title-winning coach Luciano Spalletti in the offseason — and the return of Walter Mazzarri.

Napoli beat Atalanta in Mazzarri’s debut before going close in Madrid to an important result.

The match against Inter will be only Mazzarri’s third in charge but already there is a difference in how the team is playing.

“There is a team that is playing together, for the team,” Napoli forward André Zambo Anguissa said when asked what had changed. “Now you can see that the team is playing one for all and all for one.

“There is a coach that has come in and is trying to give his all for the team, to help it understand the strength is in the team, only in the team, and you can see on the field that we are a real team now.”


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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