Napoli vs. Inter Milan: A Tale of Two Cities
In more ways than one, Naples and Milan are polar opposites. The latter is the heart of Italian commerce: rich, international, often bland and cold. The former, meanwhile, speaks of a different Italy, of the south. It's hot, full of crumbling ruins and entirely unique. It's not without its problems, but it has no issues with identity—when you're in Naples, you know it.
The city's football teams who met this weekend are much the same. Inter are a symbol of success, with fans around the world who expect the Nerazzurri to consistently compete on the world stage. A match for anyone, most years, at least.
Napoli, on the other hand, are a more localised affair. The glory days of Diego Maradona and recent performances mean that the Partenopei are not without their followers globally, but their existence is driven by regional passions.
Historically, Napoli are one of the few southern Italian clubs to ever challenge the northern hegemony. Right now, history is repeating itself. Juventus might be the champions of Italy, but Napoli are the surprise package in second, ahead of traditional giants AC Milan and Inter.
Fittingly, it was the visit of the Nerazzurri to the Stadio San Paolo that confirmed Napoli's supremacy in the league and secured their rivals' place in next year's Champions League.
Europe's premier competition is supposed to be the domain of Andrea Stramaccioni's side; they were, after all, champions just a few short seasons ago. But in 2013-14, it will be the lighter blue of Naples that will be among Italy's representatives.
Whether they are joined by Inter's city rivals AC Milan or the surprise purple package of Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina is yet to be decided. The Viola boss' old side, AS Roma, will have a hand in deciding that when they meet Milan in two rounds' time.
On a sultry summer's night in Naples, there was really one one team in it. A hat-trick from star striker Edinson Cavani fired Walter Mazzarri's side to a convincing win over their northern rivals—and underlined his own worth at the same time.
A crude challenge from Juan Zuniga on Ricky Alvarez allowed the Argentinian to nab a goal for Inter from the resulting penalty, but the home side were under little pressure for the rest of the evening.
Inter boss Stramaccioni summed the night's events up quite well in his press conference afterwards, saying (via goal.com):
I can only compliment Napoli, they played a great match and deserved the win. Cavani was amazing but we were both at the same level until 3-1. After we equalised we were unlucky, we did better in the second half before Cavani's third goal. Despite our absences, we put on a good show against Napoli who deserve second place.
That mention of Inter's absences is telling. Strama's squad has been decimated by injuries in recent months. And though it provides a convenient excuse for the San Siro outfit's poor performances, the fact that almost all of the problems are of a muscular nature hints at serious deficiencies within the training or medical setup in Milan.
Should he keep his job, the young coach can't allow this to blight his campaign next term. It will likely be a summer of change at Inter.
Napoli, too, are facing a possible offseason of upheaval. Mazzarri has been linked with several jobs elsewhere and his star striker is currently the most wanted forward in European football. Holding on to one is possible, but it's unlikely both will be here next season.
But even if both leave, their legacy will be a lasting one. They've brought the good times back to Napoli and Europe's biggest competition back to Naples.
Another possible contrast between Milan and Naples, then. The San Siro, silent on those Champions League nights it's become so used to, while the San Paolo is packed and in full song.
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