Serie A Betting Guide: Napoli Can Have Their Way with Inter
The marquee matchup in Serie A this weekend is in Milan, where Internazionale host Napoli at 3:45 p.m. ET Sunday. Napoli are currently atop the table, with a single-point lead over six-time defending champions Juventus, although Juve have a game in hand. Inter, meanwhile, sit in fifth, a point outside the Champions League qualification spots, although the two teams in front of them, Roma and Lazio, have also played one more game. It’s a pivotal match for both clubs.
Inter will have to overcome a lot to really challenge a Napoli side that — despite its shocking 4-2 defeat to Roma last weekend — has consistently been the best in Italy. The major problem for Inter is simply that they’ve been incredibly streaky all season. They didn’t lose their first match until Dec. 16, against Udinese, their 17th game of the season. They won 12 of those first 16 games and sat first in the table, a single point ahead of Napoli. In the 10 games since, they’ve won twice. — Michael Goodman
Inter’s Roller-Coaster Ride
It has been a complete and total tale of two seasons for this Inter side. Usually when a stark change like Inter’s happens, there’s a lot of luck involved. Perhaps an extremely hot finishing side cools down, or a keeper stops standing on his head. But Inter’s underlying numbers have also changed dramatically. Even during their hot stretch, Inter weren’t a dominant attacking team. Their 33 goals were fourth in Italy during the first 16 games of the season, and outpaced their 27 expected goals, a total which was fifth in the league. Since then, they’ve only scored nine goals. Only four teams have scored fewer. And while part of that may just be variance, their expected goals over that stretch is at almost 13, which ranks ninth in Serie A over that time. Inter’s expected goals per game dropped from 1.66 to 1.29.
Their defense saw a similar change in performance. Early in the season, Inter’s staunch rearguard was really their calling card. They conceded 10 goals, tied for the stingiest defensive performance in La Liga. Their 14 expected goals conceded was the second-best tally. Their 11 goals conceded in the 10 games since isn’t bad, but it’s just average. Six teams have conceded fewer, and it’s right in line with their expected goal tally of 12. Like their attacking numbers, their underlying defensive numbers have shown a real slip. They’ve gone from conceding 0.90 expected goals per game to 1.16.
As if that weren’t enough of a problem for the Milan outfit, the reality is that even the good version, the one that showed up for the first 16 games, isn’t as good as this Napoli team. The two teams drew 0-0 on Oct. 21, in a game in which Napoli slightly had the better of, outshooting Inter 13-11, and 9-7 inside the penalty box, while also having 62% possession. And Napoli’s numbers over the entire season of 1.98 expected goals per game and 0.57 goals conceded per game are significantly better than Inter’s were during their hot start. — Michael Goodman
Napoli Steady as She Goes
While Inter have been a roller-coaster ride all season, Napoli have just been great. They lead the league in expected goals with just under 54 and in expected goals conceded with just over 15. While they have only a one-point lead over Juventus, the Little Donkeys have been the better team over the season, even if they don’t have great players like Gonzalo Higuaín, Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Gigi Buffon who can boost a pretty good team like Juventus to greatness.
For Inter to have chance Sunday, the good version of their squad, the one that’s been largely absent for the last 10 games, will need to show up. The problem is, even if they do, they’ll still be a worse team than this absolutely sublime Napoli squad. — Michael Goodman
Inter were hoping to cling onto the coattails of the top two as late as Christmas but are now fighting to keep their place in the top four, having fallen out of the Champions League qualification places last month. A run of eight games without a win came to an end recently, but Luciano Spalletti’s side are still not performing to the standards set early in the season and are 18 points adrift of their guests this weekend.
Inter have remained relatively strong defensively, but that has not been the case at the opposite end, with just nine goals scored in their last 13 matches in all competitions. They’ve found it particularly hard to make a fast start in games, scoring just three first-half goals in their last 13 matches, which is, worryingly, no such problem for Napoli.
The Light Blues have scored before the break in nine of their past 11 matches by comparison, notching 15 first-half goals over that time, so Napoli are worth considering to be ahead after 45 minutes. You can find odds of 2.75 (+175) on the visitors to be winning at the interval, and 3.60 (+260) for them to hold onto that potential lead come the final whistle in the “half time/full time” market.
Inter’s dip has been significant, and has highlighted once again that if star striker Mauro Icardi is out of form, Inter lack firepower from elsewhere. The Argentine has an impressive 18 league goals this season, but fitness issues have dampened what might have been a sensational individual campaign, with the 25-year-old having scored in just two of his past nine appearances.
After missing all of February, Icardi is set to make his return Sunday. And while his record at home this season is excellent — 12 of his league strikes have come at the San Siro — the club captain has struggled against Napoli in the past. In 12 appearances against the Little Donkeys, Icardi has scored just twice, and his lack of goals in this fixture has led to an issue for Inter as a whole.
Inter have failed to score in the last three meetings between the sides, and goals at both ends in these encounters are rare in general. Seven of the past 10 fixtures between Inter and Napoli have seen either one or neither side find the net, so the odds of 2.10 (+110) on a repeat, betting on “No” in the “both teams to score” market, are tempting.
Given how unlikely it is for Napoli to fail to find a breakthrough against any side, having scored in each of their last 15 matches, I would therefore lean further toward an away win. These two sides may only be separated by three teams in the table, but in terms of the quality of their football, at this moment at least, they are a ways apart.
That much is reflected in the match odds to an extent, but there is still a decent price to be had on Napoli at around even money. They are outstanding travelers domestically after all, only dropping points in one of 13 away matches thus far — a 0-0 draw with Chievo in early November — so for those who like to be bold with their bets, combining my tips of a Napoli win with Inter failing to score in the process can find you a price of 4.33 (+333) with Betfair. — Martin Laurence
All odds current as of Friday afternoon.
Photo: Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj (L) in action against Inter’s Yuto Nagatomo.