Napoli’s 2017-18 Serie A campaign received its first blemish on Saturday night. An entertaining top-of-the-table clash with Inter Milan at home ended in a frustrating 0-0 draw.
But if the frustration represented Napoli’s imperfection, the 90 minutes represented something else. They provided little evidence that could be used to refute the main takeaway from the club’s previously perfect league start: There’s going to be proper Serie A title race this year. And it’s going to involve more than one team.
Had Juventus been watching from up north, its reaction surely would have been just that. The six-time defending champs have run away with the league in recent years. They’ll do nothing of the sort this time around.
Because Napoli is here to stay. In a way, its frustration is evidence of that, too. If not for some unfortunate bounces, and some heroics from Inter keeper Samir Handanovic, the league-leaders would still be perfect. They should still be perfect.
The Slovenian keeper came up with one of his many stunning saves in the 90th minute to deny Dries Mertens.
حااارس عن ألف .. سمير هاندانوفيتش pic.twitter.com/49kHa3m1ev
— ᴴᴰعآدل (@intereventsFC) October 21, 2017
Mertens was also rebuffed on the doorstep by a fantastic double-save in the first half:
Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne were dangerous all night, but just couldn’t squeeze a shot past Handanovic. The former also had a close-range attempt blocked as the latter screamed for the ball in space. Aside from a couple of five-minute stretches, Napoli was undoubtedly the better side. Inter will cling to the point as if it’s a victory.
It’s a point that keeps the better of the two Milan teams in second place, two points back. It takes Napoli six points clear of third-place Juventus. But Juve can cut the deficit to one game with a win at Udinese on Sunday.
And given their track record, the Bianconeri might still be considered title favorites. They’ve won it every season since 2011-12, first by four points, then by nine the following year, and by a whopping 17 in each of 2013-14 and 2014-15.
But the gap has been closing. Napoli and Roma have put up two straight fights. The former will surely put up a third. And it looks set to be its strongest yet. Saturday was a slight setback. But it wasn’t anything to suggest that won’t be the case.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.