FC Internazionale Milano v SSC Napoli - Serie A

No moral victories as Napoli loses at Inter Milan

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If Roberto Mancini was indignant after his team’s loss to Manchester United, Walter Mazzarri had reason to be irate. Manchester City’s boss spent his post-match interviews insisting his team was the better side in Sunday’s Manchester Derby, but his team’s perceived dominance was nothing compared to the pressure Napoli maintained on Inter Milan throughout Sunday’s match at the San Siro.

Unfortunately, just like City, Napoli came up short, dropping the 2-1 result and a place in the table to Internazionale. The Nerazzurri now sit second in Serie A, four points behind Juventus. Napoli, the other main threat to Juve;s defense, trail by five.

The Azzurri controlled play from the opening kickoff only to see Inter stop prove feisty every time their visitors tried to initiate an attacking move. Napoli’s early energy was defused by a well-timed challenges, clearing balls into the combative midfield before Napoli’s Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami regained possession and cycled Napoli into a new attack.

That dynamic changed in the eighth minute when Inter’s Fredy Guarin latched onto a corner from the left, perfectly hitting a ball inside Morgan De Sanctis’s left post for the opener. On a restart from Antonio Cassano lofted well beyond the middle of the area, Guarin connected with the ball just before it hit the ground, an attempt we normally see end up in the stands. This time, Guarin drove the ball on goal while De Sanctis stopped short of the near post to try to maintain position for a cross-goal shot. The gap gave Gaurin enough room for the opener.

After the score, Inter’s combativeness went away. Starting both Javier Zanetti and Walter Gargano in the midfield of their 3-5-2 formation, the Nerazzurri stopped challenging and started parrying Napoli’s attacks, a stance that persisted through the end of the match. The posture allowed Mazzarri’s team to complete 83 percent of their passes while holding 63 percent of the ball, outshooting Inter 21 to 8 (total shots). Under siege in the second half, Inter leveraged a late first half goal from Diego Milito to hold out for a 2-1 win. Napoli’s only goal came from Edinson Cavani in the 54th minute.

It was Inter’s first big win since beating Juventus on Nov. 3, a victory that announced Andrea Strammacioni’s team as potential title contenders. Unfortunately, Inter regressed in the wake of that win, earning only one point in their next three matches. With a trip to Lazio on Saturday, Strammacioni can not afford to let his team fall into a similar lapse.

But given the way the game played out, Sunday’s result will be seen as more of a road bump for Napoli than a pedestal for Inter. The Nerazzurri merely illustrated their capacity, whereas Napoli, in the third year of their run as one of the better teams in Serie A, are looking for more than mere good performances.

After losing Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, there is a lingering feeling that the window for this team may be closing. Whether that end point is the sale of Cavani or the loss of more supporting parts, Napoli’s time is now. As such, games like Sunday’s at the San Siro – in front of a surprisingly supportive crowd, against a team that’s there to be beaten – are discouraging.

Napoli (and the rest of Italy) can take solace in the fact that Juventus doesn’t appear ready to pull away. While the gap to the holders may be five points, the Partenopei have every reason to believe they are just as capable as the leaders.

Going forward, they’ll need to convert strong performances like Sunday’s into full points if they’re to unseat the champions.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.