Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia carrying Napoli to new heights
Sun, Mar 19, 2023 5:04 PM
By ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) — Victor Osimhen combines the characteristics of a classic No. 9 with the talents of a modern striker.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s dribbling wizardry and passing abilities befuddle defenders in Italy and beyond.
Individually, Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia are devastating enough. Together, they are leading Napoli to new heights game after game.
The latest demonstration came when Osimhen scored a brace of headers and Kvaratskhelia earned and converted a penalty and set up two goals in Napoli’s 4-0 win at Torino in Serie A on Sunday.
The victory left the runaway leader 19 points ahead of second-place Lazio, which beat Roma 1-0 in a derby, and a step closer to Napoli’s first Serie A title since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two Italian league championships back in 1987 and 1990.
“Once again when I talked to the team before the game I had the feeling that there could be a sense of fulfillment, and once again they responded by showing that they’re made of different stuff, that they know how to handle the Napoli shirt," coach Luciano Spalletti said. "There’s a Neopolitan saying that goes, ‘Whoever is hungry doesn’t feel sleepy,’ and that fits perfectly.”
Osimhen started it off midway through the first half when he leaped above the defense to redirect in a corner with a towering header.
After a couple of key saves from Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret — who is also quietly having a standout season — Kvaratskhelia doubled the advantage with a penalty.
But that was just the warmup.
The main act was Napoli’s third goal, a full team move with Kvaratskhelia providing a backheel flick to Mathias Olivera, who floated in a cross for Osimhen to head in at the far post.
“Napoli isn’t just (Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia). You’ve got to expand the discussion to the entire squad,” Spalletti said. “The third goal wasn’t just about Kvaratskhelia’s backheel pass, Olivera’s cross and Osimhen’s header. Before that (Napoli captain Giovanni) Di Lorenzo cut inside to create the conditions for the play to develop on the other side.”
Osimhen became the first player to score two headed braces in the same Serie A season since former Italy striker Alberto Gilardino accomplished the feat in 2009-10 with Fiorentina.
Osimhen has a league-best 21 goals in 27 matches, while Kvaratskhelia has 12 goals and 10 assists — the first player with such production in their first season in Europe’s big five leagues since Diego scored 13 and provided 13 assists for Werder Bremen 16 years ago.
Kvaratskhelia also set up Tanguy Ndombole’s first Serie A goal midway through the second half.
Osimhen also scored twice when Napoli beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 on Wednesday to secure a 5-0 aggregate victory and reach the Champions League quarterfinals.
JUVENTUS WINS AT INTER
Inter Milan dropped to third place following a 1-0 loss at home to Juventus, which is approaching the European spots despite a 15-point penalty for false accounting.
Filip Kostic scored with a long, angled shot to finish off a counterattack early on at the San Siro.
Mattia Zaccagni scored for Lazio midway through the second half with a precise shot after Roma was reduced to 10 men in the first half when Roger Ibanez picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Roma thought it had equalized two minutes after Zaccagni’s goal following a free kick but the score was waved off by the VAR for offside.
Before kickoff, fans clashed with police outside the Stadio Olimpico.
Having also beaten Roma 1-0 in November, it marked the first time that Lazio won both season league derbies in 11 years.
Also, Fiorentina moved into the top half of the table by beating Lecce 1-0 with an own-goal from Antonino Gallo and Sampdoria defeated Hellas Verona 3-1 with a brace from Manolo Gabbiadini in a matchup of two teams in the drop zone.
Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf ___
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports