Serie A: Leonardo leads Inter against Napoli

Serie A: Leonardo leads Inter against Napoli

European Champions Inter have gambled on an inexperienced coach to resurrect their season and new boss Leonardo kicks off with a challenging debut when high-flying Napoli visit San Siro on Thursday.

The Brazilian tactician was appointed head coach on Christmas Eve and replaces Rafa Benitez whose brief tenure had seen last season’s treble winners slide to mid-table and outside of a UEFA Champions League qualifying position with just 6 wins from their first fifteen league games.

41-year-old Leonardo has just one year experience of managing in the top flight, almost as controversial is the time was spent with Inter’s bitter rivals, AC Milan.

He faces a daunting challenge to win title honours this season, his former club has a thirteen point advantage, although Inter have two games in-hand as they are without a league game since 3 December when they lost 3-1 to Lazio.

In the interim Inter enjoyed success by winning the FIFA Club World Cup and it’s to be hoped that the players will be spurred to carry on in winning form as they re-embark on the league campaign.

Certainly, the new boss has been impressed by what he has seen so far: “The players have shown a fantastic attitude in training. We're focused on Napoli because it's a key fixture: we're playing against the team that lies second in the league. And we're ready for it.''

Napoli arrive in fine form and on the back of three straight league wins are threatening a serious title challenge in second place and three points from leaders Milan.

The visitors coach, Walter Mazzarri has great respect for his new opposite number and anticipates a good reaction from the Inter team, he told the press conference: "First of all I like to greet the return of Leonardo.

“He is a person who knows how to live in this kind of environment. I especially appreciate the intelligence of a man whom I had the pleasure of knowing.

"Then it will be a further psychological boost for Inter, who are fresh from winning the Club World Championship, making it even harder for us.”

Home advantage makes Inter favourites and online bookmaker William Hill is offering odds of 10/11 for Leonardo to get off to a winning start, but he must do so without some key players.

Wesley Sneijder, Samuel, Mancini and Julio Cesar are all sidelined with injuries and leading goalscorer Samuel Eto’o misses the game through suspension.

On the other hand, Mazzarri has no major selection concerns and will play to the strengths of his 23-year-old Uruguayan target man Edinson Cavani who has scored ten times in 17 appearances this season.

Possible starting line ups:
INTER: Castellazzi; Maicon, Cordoba, Lucio, Zanetti; Cambiasso, Stankovic, Motta; Biabiany, Milito, Pandev.
NAPOLI: Iezzo; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Gargano, Pazienza, Dossena; Hamsik, Lavezzi, Cavani.

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