MAPEI STADIUM (Reggio Emilia): It really feels as though we’re a long way beyond there even being a remote risk of Napoli not winning Serie A and celebrating a first scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona. Wherever the Partenopei go between now and the end of the season, they’ll be followed by a vocal and large support – which was the case on Matchday 23 in Reggio Emilia as they beat Sassuolo.
Even with the ban their fans have been hit with for away games, Napoletani living and working in Northern Italy are ensuring that their side feel at home pretty much wherever they go. From long before kick-off in their win over Sassuolo, the Mapei was bouncing – and it had nothing to do with the minority there to support the Neroverdi.
It shouldn’t really come as much surprise. On the pitch, Luciano Spalletti’s side are sweeping everybody aside this season, and they’re well on track to do more than just win the title, but they’re looking likely to be historic champions as well. Only twice in Serie A’s past had a side collected more points from their first 22 games than Napoli’s 59 this term – Inter hit 60 in 2006/07 and Juventus matched that tally in 2018/19. In those seasons, the Nerazzurri finished the campaign on 97 points and the Bianconeri hit just 90. Looking at this Napoli, who have added three more to that total, you’d back them to even become centurions.
Powered on by Osimhen
It’s not just as a collective that Napoli have impressed either. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has been grabbing headlines with his ten goals and nine assists in his maiden Serie A season, but Victor Osimhen has arguably shone even brighter. Before Sassuolo, the Nigerian had scored in six straight Serie A games, with no other Napoli forward ever netting in seven straight games in the era of three points for a win (introduced in 1994/95). His goal to make it 2-0 in Reggio Emilia allowed him to write another piece of history.
Against Sassuolo, Osimhen has scored five times – making the Neroverdi his favourite opponents – though his four strikes against them had previously come in two games at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona prior to their most Matchday 23 trip north.
Fire meets ice
There’s something really special about both Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. As tired as the old cliche is, the belief that opposites attract couldn’t be truer than it is with them.
Everything Osimhen does is done with violence, at least on the ball. Defenders try to get near him, to hold him, to knock him off his stride, but nothing works. Without much effort, he shrugs off anybody and strides two or three paces clear as they scramble after him. When he shoots, his shots stay hit.
But without the ball you see more of his personality, he’s as vocal as anybody and a real leader from the front, applauding and encouraging everything his Napoli teammates attempt, even when they go against what he has requested or instructed of them.
The other half of the duo couldn’t be much more different. There’s something a bit ghostly about Kvaratskhelia. Even watching him live, you can easily forget he’s there. He doesn’t look imposing, despite his deceptive height, and if anything he looks a little frail and like a player who could be blasted for looking disinterested by anybody attempting to read his body language.
Once he’s found with the ball, though, he transforms. Kvaratskhelia wants to embarrass his opponents as early as he can, and Nadir Zortea fell victim to the humiliation of a nutmeg inside five minutes at the Mapei.
When Chelsea brought Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen together in London, the pair became known as the Blues’ Fire and Ice partnership. This season, we’re seeing a modern and even more lethal version of that in Naples.
Forza. Napoli. Sempre! (Tw: BigVinnyB)