NAPLES - History repeated itself at the Stadio San Paolo as Marcelo Zalayeta came off the bench to give Napoli a 1-0 victory over Inter.
The Uruguayan, who netted the winner in the same fixture last season, scored ten minutes after replacing Denis to send the Nerazzurri to their third defeat of the Serie A season and cut their lead at the top to seven points.
José Mourinho made one change to the team that drew with Juventus last weekend, with Vieira coming in for the injured Muntari in his three-man midfield.
Napoli boss Roberto Donadoni, still chasing his first win in charge of the club, brought in Aronica for the disqualified Cannavaro at the back and Denis for Zalayeta up front as he made a series of switches to the team that lost to Cagliari in the previous round.
Inter had the better chances of an evenly-balanced first half, with Samuel forcing a tipped save from Navarro with a flicked header from Balotelli's left-wing free kick in the second minute.
Balotelli went close in the 15th, his crisp long-range strike finishing on the roof of the net, and Ibrahimovic narrowly missed what would have been a candidate for goal of the season with a brilliant swerving volley from Stankovic's pass.
A couple of Lavezzi free kicks later, Balotelli tested Navarro with effort from distance, and with half time looming Hamsik collected a Montervino cross from the right and blasted wide when scoring would have been easier.
Both teams made a cautious start to the second half, the first clear chance falling to Vieira in the 60th minute when his 20-yard shot was saved by Navarro.
Mannini had a cross-shot saved by Julio Cesar as Napoli found space down the left in a spate of end-to-end football, before Ibrahimovic went close with a fiercely struck free kick.
Napoli broke the deadlock with 17 minutes remaining when Lavezzi sidestepped two opponents and played square to Zalayeta who took Julio Cesar by surprise with his first-time shot.
The Inter keeper redeemed himself with a reflex save from Blasi's deflected shot as Napoli created chances to increase their lead in the final minutes.
Napoli 1-0 Inter (HT: 0-0)
Scorer: Zalayeta 73.
Napoli: 30 Navarro; 13 Santacroce, 96 Contini, 6 Aronica; 4 Montervino, 32 Amodio (18 Bogliacino 89), 8 Blasi, 17 Hamisik, 77 Mannini; 7 Lavezzi (15 Datolo 84), 9 Denis (25 Zalayeta 63).
Subs not used: 70 Bucci, 2 Grava, 5 Pazienza, 20 Russotto.
Coach: Roberto Donadoni.
Inter: 12 Julio Cesar; 4 Zanetti, 2 Cordoba, 25 Samuel, 26 Chivu (6 Maxwell 81); 14 Vieira (9 Cruz 75), 19 Cambiasso, 5 Stankovic; 7 Figo (33 Mancini 70), 45 Balotelli, 8 Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: 1 Toldo, 16 Burdisso, 23 Materazzi, 39 Santon.
Coach: José Mourinho.
Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Turin).
Booked: Vieira 13, Amodio 19, Cruz 83, Balotelli 84, Stankovic 88.