Despite all these celebrations of the recent past, against Napoli there were present and future at stake. In the afternoon AC Milan moved 5 points clear at the top after a 1-0 win at Cagliari.
Nerazzurri began the match with a 16 points gap between them and Rossoneri - but with two games in hand. Leonardo couldn't dream of a better start as his fellow countryman Thiago Motta broke the deadlock after only 3 minutes with a perfectly timed volley.
Leonardo chose to start with a 4-3-1-2 formation. A very tight midfield line [Zanetti-Cambiasso-Motta], designed basically to protect the heart of the defense. Maicon and Chivu were given room and freedom to exploit the flanks; same could be said of Stankovic allowed to play a là Sneijder behind Milito and Pandev. Napoli were one of the toughest test serie A can offer at the moment. This season's playing level is probably the lowest point in the Italian League's recent history. However, in this general mediocrity contest Napoli can be seen as one of the [current] top teams. So all credit to Leonardo and his guys if Inter made Napoli look smaller and weaker than usual.
Partenopei levelled on 23 minutes as Pazienza headed a Lavezzi corner, exposing clearly Maicon lack of concentration - he simply didn't jump. Fifteen minutes later it was Cambiasso who gave the perfect reply, heading home a Maicon's cross. In the second half Thiago Motta completed his brace with a header into the top corner. There was still time to admire a 60-yard coast-to-coast from captain Zanetti but his shot went wide. He's still the same engine arrived from Argentina 15 years ago.
Leonardo's postgame analysis had nothing to do with tactics but with inspiration, restored pride and praise. We will get used to his mantra. "This Inter side is the best of all time. When in 20 years time people look at this team, there will be a genral consensus that it was the best Inter ever" said the Brazilian coach.
There is a very different spirit in the squad and Inter players body language gave ample proof of it. Esteban Cambiasso, one of the key players, chose to keep everyone's feet on the ground: "I don't want to compare coaches. I'd like to thank all of them - Mancini, Mourinho, Benitez and now Leonardo. But don't say that only now things are OK. We did a great work even under Benitez otherwise we wouldn't have won anything".
MAN OF THE MATCH: Leonardo. The former AC Milan coach needed a good start to cancel Benitez and Mourinho's shadows. He got it. The challenge to prove himself as good as them or even better is just started.
Serie A 2010-11 / Day 18
INTER: Castellazzi; Maicon, Lucio, Cordoba, Chivu; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Thiago Motta (Muntari 86'); Stankovic (Mariga 80'); Pandev (Biabiany 83'), Milito. Coach: Leonardo
NAPOLI: De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Gargano (Yebda 58'), Pazienza (Sosa 76'), Dossena (Zuniga 66'); Hamsik, Lavezzi; Cavani. Coach: Mazzarri
Goals: Thiago Motta 3', 55', Cambiasso 37'; Pazienza 23'
Yellow cards: Chivu, Maicon, Zanetti; Aronica, Campagnaro