x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Napoli are left down at heel

Improvisation inspired Inter Milan to their 10th win of the league campaign as their 2-1 victory over Napoli gives them a six-point lead over Juventus.

Sulley Muntari, right, did well for Inter Milan against Napoli.
Sulley Muntari, right, did well for Inter Milan against Napoli.

Jose Mourinho made a lot of notes in his dugout at the Giussepe Meazza stadium on Sunday, issues to point out to his players after the game. The Portuguese puppeteer sometimes gives the impression everything any team he coaches does is pre-planned and operated by his remote control.

But improvisation inspired Inter Milan's 10th win of the league campaign, a 2-1 victory over Napoli that gave them a six-point lead over their nearest pursuers, Juventus and, by the end of Sunday also over third-placed AC Milan, who lost at Palermo. Two back-heels secured the win, the decisive goal arriving once Julio Cruz, chasing a ball down the inside right channel, had diverted it with his heel back into the path of Maicon to cross low into the Napoli box.

There, Ali Sulley Muntari, making one of the runs from midfield that are becoming his trademark, seemed to have mistimed his arrival until he caught the centre with the heel of his trailing foot and scored Inter's second. One backheel per goal is remarkable enough, even in a team that includes a specialist in that manoeuvre, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Two seems showy. Muntari, scorer of the winner against Juventus eight days earlier, is making a golden start to his first season with Inter.

The Ghanaian had also set up their first, Ivan Cordoba connecting with Muntari's cross. By half-time, Ezequiel Lavezzi had pulled a goal back for Napoli, a fine virtuoso effort, and Lavezzi might have earned the visitors something more had he not ballooned a later chance over the bar. Napoli stay fourth in the league, but nine points behind the defending champions. Mourinho felt the margin was comfortable enough. "Napoli scored a very good goal but had no other real chances that I saw," he said, before turning on the San Siro boo-boys who had jeered Maicon and Cruz, venting left-over frustration from the midweek defeat by Panathinaikos. "They deserve better from the supporters."

Mourinho's day turned even better when Palermo defeated Milan 3-1 in Sicily, second-half goals from Fabrizio Miccoli - a thunderbolt of a shot - and Edison Cavani and Fabio Simplicio - both with headers - condemning Milan to defeat, and a tally of seven goals conceded in three games over the last eight days for the Rossoneri. Miccoli might have scored two or three, but Milan should likewise have registered more than just Ronaldinho's late penalty in return. The Brazilian had hit the bar with a free-kick and had a first-half spot-kick saved.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Milan coach, displayed his anxiety not by feverishly making notes but by lighting up a cigarette, glimpsed by cameras. He'll be ticked off for that. His defenders can expect hard words too. ihawkey@thenational.ae