Callejon dive to blame for Nagatomo dismissal – Mancini

The Inter coach argued that his side would not have been beaten at the San Paolo had the Japanese defender not been sent off for two yellow cards

Inter boss Roberto Mancini accused Jose Callejon of simulation after Monday’s 2-1 loss at Napoli, claiming the winger had “clearly dived” for the foul that ultimately led to Yuto Nagatomo’s “unfair” dismissal.

Gonzalo Higuain gave the home side the lead after just 63 seconds of play and the Nerazzurri‘s night went from bad to worse right before the break when Nagatomo, who had already been booked for an alleged knee into the back of Callejon, picked up a second yellow for a mistimed tackle on Allan right on the touchline.

Higuain then doubled Napoli’s advantage midway through the second half but 10-man Inter staged a spirited late fightback, with Adem Ljajic halving their deficit before both Stevan Jovetic and Miranda were denied by the woodwork in the injury time.

The result saw the hosts replace Inter at the summit of the Serie A standings but Mancini had nothing but praise for his players, arguing that they would have got at least a point out of the game had it not been for Callejon’s perceived theatrics.

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“Personally I’m happy because we were always in it, even in the first half,” the Inter coach told reporters.

“Yuto was sent off for a little foul. We would never have lost 11 v 11 and we might even have won it because we played brilliantly. Sadly, that’s football for you.

[Jose] Callejon clearly dived for Nagatomo’s first booking, whereas for the second Yuto could have been a bit more careful.

“It was a very open game that was ruined by an unfair sending-off, so it’s hard to assess. [Napoli goalkeeper Pepe] Reina and Higuain were exceptional.

“As I said, that’s football but there’s no shame in losing if you’ve played well against the best team in the league and two of their players have had a night like that. On this occasion, they got lucky and we didn’t.

“There was a ball we didn’t deal with properly at the start and Higuain did superbly to score an amazing goal.

“But we deserved more come the end of the match. I thought both Miranda’s and Jovetic’s headers were going in.”

Napoli 2-1 Inter: Higuain double moves Sarri's side top

A goal in each half from the Argentina international helped Napoli win an entertaining game at the Stadio San Paolo and move above their rival in the process

Gonzalo Higuain scored twice to earn Napoli a 2-1 win over Inter at the Stadio San Paolo on Monday as the hosts leapfrogged their opponents into top spot and bolstered their Scudetto hopes.

The sides went into the weekend’s action as the league’s top two – Fiorentina’s draw with Sassuolo earlier on Monday temporarily pushing Napoli down to third – but Higuain continued to impress for Maurizio Sarri’s men, whose task was aided by the first-half dismissal of Yuto Nagatomo.

Higuain needed just over a minute to find the net for an eighth home league game running as Inter conceded their first goal in more than a month.

Napoli proceeded to dominate the first half while Inter hopes were hampered when Nagatomo picked up two yellow cards in nine first-half minutes for poor challenges on Jose Callejon and Allan.

Higuain’s second on 62 minutes – an impressive blend of pace, strength and lethal finishing – proved critical, with Adem Ljajic giving Inter hope shortly after.

But Sarri’s side were deserving of an eighth consecutive home win in all competitions, surviving a couple of late scares to go a point clear of Inter who remain winless in Naples since October 1997.

Napoli could scarcely have hoped for a better start as they took the lead after just 64 seconds following uncharacteristically sloppy Inter defending.

Jeison Murillo cleared straight to Callejon who was able to chest the ball into Higuain’s path, the Argentinian firing past Samir Handanovic to maintain his record of scoring in every home game for Napoli against Inter.

Inter steadied themselves but remained vulnerable to Napoli’s free-flowing attacking play – Callejon fluffing a volley from inside the area before Marek Hamsik saw an effort well saved by Handanovic.

Fredy Guarin and Ivan Perisic both went close on rare forays forward for Inter but the hosts were given an extra boost when Nagatomo was shown a second yellow card for a mistimed challenge on Callejon prior to half-time.

Mancini withdrew the largely anonymous Mauro Icardi for Alex Telles at half-time but Napoli continued to control possession.

Inter offered a limited threat on the break as Sarri’s men sought to put the result beyond doubt, Hamsik’s header at goal well kept out by Handanovic before Allan saw a long-range drive fly over the crossbar.

Unsurprisingly, it was Higuain who doubled Napoli’s lead shortly after the hour as he latched onto Raul Albiol’s header, holding off Murillo and Miranda before slotting a wonderful finish past Handanovic.

Ljajic produced an impressive left-footed strike from inside the area to beat Pepe Reina low to his left and give Inter hope five minutes later.

Inter piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser – Miranda hitting the post before Reina turned Stevan Jovetic’s  header onto the crossbar in the final stages – but Napoli survived a gripping finale to pick up an important win in the context of their burgeoning title hopes.

Don't compare Icardi to Higuain – Mancini

The Napoli striker has netted double the number of goals his young compatriot has managed, yet the Inter boss says it is still too early to judge who is better at this point

Roberto Mancini says Mauro Icardi cannot yet be compared to Gonzalo Higuain ahead of Inter’s trip to face Napoli on Monday.

Last season’s joint-top Serie A goalscorer Icardi has been languishing behind his compatriot Higuain in their respective tallies this season, with the latter the league’s current top scorer with 10 strikes.

Nerazzurri captain Icardi has been affected by his side’s struggles in front of goal and has only registered four, yet Mancini says it is still impossible to judge who is better at this point in time.

“Gonzalo has international experience that Mauro doesn’t have yet,” the Inter coach said of the Argentinian pair.

“It’s impossible to compare them right now, Mauro still has his whole career ahead of him.

“There will be disappointments along the way but I know he’ll become a fantastic striker because he knows exactly where the goal is. He will be a top goalscorer.”

Inter and Napoli have lost just once each in the league this term and look set to challenge Juventus’ recent domestic dominance.

With two points separating the sides, Mancini added: “In these games the players have to give everything.

“We need to stay alert and make sure we attack in numbers in order to score. Right now we’re ahead – we’re in first place and that’s very important.

“It’ll be a big test because it’s our first match against a direct rival away from San Siro. That said, we’re only in week 14 and there are four teams right up there, so the match won’t change anything. 

“I think we’ll all be fighting right until the end.”

Inter playing to their strengths – Sarri

The table-topping sides will meet in Naples, and Roberto Mancini’s penchant for grinding out 1-0 wins has found praise from his opposite number ahead of the game

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri says he does not feel Inter are a boring team and is eagerly anticipating the clash between Serie A’s top two at the Stadio San Paolo on Monday.

Roberto Mancini’s miserly side have recorded seven 1-0 wins from 13 league matches this season, but Sarri has praised the Nerazzurri for playing to their strengths rather than criticise what are considered by some to be overly defensive tactics.

“Inter are a very strong and solid team. Their results in Serie A so far are proof of this,” Sarri said at a news conference.

“I disagree with those who say Inter do not play good football. Each team plays a style of football that fits their characteristics.

“Two very different teams [will] lock horns. Inter play a very efficient type of football. They are a very physical and strong team. But we will try to play our own game, like we always do.

“It will be a great game to play in an amazing stadium.”

Napoli will possibly have to make do without the services of Manolo Gabbiadini and Dries Mertens, who are both struggling with injuries.

“Our medical staff is keeping a close eye on the situation of Gabbiadini and Mertens,” Sarri added.

“I don’t know yet whether they could play.”

Napoli, second, are trailing Inter by just two points ahead of Monday’s encounter.