STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): Victor Osimhen’s sumptuous late strike was a worthy winner as Luciano Spalletti guided Napoli to a 1-0 win over his former club AS Roma that sent the Azzurri three points clear on top of the Serie A table.
The Nigeria international, making his first league start since September following an injury lay-off, showed great strength to hold off Chris Smalling before guiding a half-volley into the far corner from a tight angle with 10 minutes remaining.
It was an astonishing piece of individual skill that settled a tight and physical duel, but one that the visitors ultimately deserved to win against a Giallorossi side that failed to muster a single shot on target.
Napoli are now on an 11-match winning run in all competitions and are the only side yet to be defeated in Serie A this season; they sit three points ahead of defending champions AC Milan on top of the pile.
Mourinho and Roma set traps for Napoli
Roared on by another sell-out crowd, Roma soon settled into a familiar pattern of looking to set traps and launch quick counter-attacks.
They threatened a couple of times early on as Nicolo Zaniolo curled a shot over before Mohamed Camara pinched the ball off Tanguy Ndombele high up the pitch and teed up Tammy Abraham, but the England striker could only roll a tame finish wide.
Rui Patricio had to field a couple of long-range efforts, but the goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief when referee Massimiliano Irrati overturned his decision to award a penalty against the Portuguese for a trip on Ndombele after a consultation of the VAR monitor showed he got a hand on the ball.
Spalletti’s side again looked the likelier to make the breakthrough after the break, as Hirving Lozano’s fierce shot required a smart save from Patricio and Smalling produced a heroic block to deny Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Smalling again came to the rescue when he deflected a goal-bound shot from substitute Eljif Elmas, and from the resulting corner Juan Jesus could only horribly slice a shot wide from a good position against his former club.
Osimhen the difference
The game briefly burst into end-to-end action when Alex Meret clawed a dangerous Zaniolo ball dangerously into his box, from where Napoli recovered possession and launched a counter that ended with Osimhen dragging a shot wide of the far post.
There was nothing wrong with the Nigerian’s radar the next time he was in that position, though.
With 80 minutes on the clock, he hared after a long ball down the right wing and got around Smalling to dispatch an unstoppable, and ultimately decisive, finish. That proved to be the game’s only goal, giving Napoli three vital points.