Rafael Benitez’s Napoli are the Coppa Italia holders and have already won the Italian Super Cup this season so have considerable pedigree in one-off games. However, they are up against the king of the Coppa Italia in Roberto Mancini.
Ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final between Napoli and Inter at San Paolo, Adam Bate looks at how the two are shaping up for the clash…
Since taking over at Valencia in 2001, Benitez has delivered silverware for his employers in all five of his appointments. Cup glory has been a big part of that success thanks to his impressive ability to make his teams so hard to beat in the biggest games. There was a UEFA Cup triumph at Valencia and that Champions League win with Liverpool the following year. There was also a Super Cup win with Liverpool later in 2005 and an FA Cup win in 2006, while even a fraught period at Inter saw him deliver the Club World Cup in 2010. Despite being unwanted by Chelsea fans, there was the Europa League win in Amsterdam in 2013 and the Coppa Italia trophy duly arrived in Naples last year.
Mancini has been unable to come close to Benitez’s success in Europe but when it comes to domestic cup competitions few can compete with the Italian’s record. Fiorentina were in a mess when he took over in 2001 but he still took the club to Coppa Italia success and repeated the feat with Lazio in 2004. Upon arrival at Inter, Mancini won the competition again in each of the next two seasons to complete an historic treble of wins. It was the FA Cup in 2011 that provided the breakthrough triumph with Manchester City and the Turkish Cup followed in a brief stay at Galatasaray last year.
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The two managers have faced each other on five occasions in their careers with Benitez having had the better of the duels since guiding Liverpool to victory over Mancini’s Inter side in the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2008. A 2-0 win at Anfield set the Reds up for victory and they followed that with a 1-0 win in the San Siro to progress with ease. Scoring goals against Benitez has certainly not been easy for Mancini with the Spaniard overseeing goalless draws in the Premier League against the Italian’s Manchester City team while in charge of both Liverpool and Chelsea. Mancini did win the last time they met though, a 2-0 City win at the Etihad Stadium.
Napoli began the season badly with the disappointment of Champions League elimination in the play-off round against Athletic Bilbao being exacerbated by two defeats in their opening three Serie A games of the season. Despite that start somewhat souring the mood around Naples, recent results have been good with victory in the Super Cup as well as five wins from the last six league games lifting the Partenopei up to third in the table. With two cups still to contest, the prospect of a glorious season remains.
Inter are 10 places further back in the league table and, more worryingly, four positions lower than they were when Mancini was appointed as Walter Mazzarri’s replacement in November. Despite making a satisfactory start with a draw in the Milan derby and later holding Juventus in Turin, Mancini has won only two of his nine Serie A matches with defeats to Torino and Sassuolo providing the immediate backdrop to Wednesday’s game. Could the cup once again provide respite for Mancini?
“As far as what we do, we’ve changed almost nothing, we’ve always worked from the same basic ideas. We’ve dropped some points along the way, but we can’t change what has happened, we have to look at what will happen in the future. We have to win, not talk. The lads are working well, and we’re getting results, but Inter are a very strong team and we need to concentrate. The fans should be happy, and make themselves heard. I worry more about the reaction of the press after matches, we think one game at a time. After winning one game, a player is not the best in the world, nor is he the worst after a defeat. Fans always want more and we’ll try our best.”
“The general attitude is the right one. That doesn’t make the results OK. Obviously I want to win but the squad has the attitude of a great team. Unfortunately we’ve made the usual mistakes, technical ones, but the attitude isn’t the problem. You can talk about many things, we have to score goals and not concede them, keep the ball, and don’t give our opponents chances. We’re trying to get there. We’re working well in training, we’re all sorry and I understand the fans’ anger. I’m angry, I don’t like to lose games, but we’re trying to build something and it takes time. I knew there would be difficulties, I never thought we’d win every game. Changing the way you play is difficult.”
These are two teams whose seasons are in the balance. Inter are rebuilding and Napoli are battling to bring Champions League football back to the city. The Europa League could yet provide that route back to the big league for either team but it’s the Coppa Italia that offers the best chance of cup glory this season. But will it be Benitez and Napoli or Mancini and Inter?
Watch Napoli v Inter this Wednesday live on Sky Sports 5 HD from 7.40pm