Victor Osimhen‘s personal crusade to fire Napoli to the title was not enough on Sunday night, as it took a late Giovanni Simeone goal to take the Partenopei 13 points clear of Inter with a 2-1 win over AS Roma in the Derby del Sole, demonstrating the runaway leaders’ strength beyond their starting XI. The 27-year-old Argentine fired a late winner at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Matchday 20 of the 2022/23 Serie A campaign, to cancel out a second-half goal from Stephan El Shaarawy that nearly stole a point.
A few weeks earlier, Juventus looked like the Partenopei’s biggest rivals for the Scudetto, until their 15-point deduction, but also lost to Monza earlier in the weekend. Whereas reigning champions AC Milan have been in freefall and suffered a humiliating 5-2 defeat to Sassuolo at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza ahead of Napoli’s statement win over Roma.
Lazio and Atalanta are all now above the Rossoneri on 38 points, with Roma just behind on 37, but the Neapolitans are showing no sign of collapsing in such a way that it would allow them or Inter to have anything more than faint hopes of becoming serious challengers for the Scudetto this term.
The visitors did not let the fact that they had failed to triumph over Napoli in Serie A since November 2019, or that coach Jose Mourinho had not registered a victory against them since his debut season in Italy back in 2008, deter the match resumed after the break, but Kim Min-jae became a one-man defensive wall. His excellence was required both before and after Osimhen controlled a Khvicha Kvaratskhelia cross on his chest, cushioned on his thigh and finally sent a powerful volley flying into the roof of the net past a helpless Patricio.
The South Korean international made a perfectly timed challenge on Abraham just as he was about to unleash a shot on goal on 49 minutes. Then, when Meret flapped at another cross into the box with half an hour to go, it was the 26-year-old’s head that flicked it over the crossbar, and continually repel the Roman crosses from wide.
Simeone stars, undeniable depth
When a Roma cross finally avoided the forehead of Kim Min-jae, the Giallorossi were fortunate that it fell to their most impressive performer of the second period, Stephan El Shaarawy, and that Meret’s unconvincing display was finally capitalised upon.
Since his introduction at the break, the ex-Milan winger had provided plenty of concern for Napoli, as he looked to counter-attack with his pace whenever the hosts lost possession, but his goal came when Roma where having a moment of dominance themselves.
Zalewski sent a deep cross over the Partenopei defence and the 30-year-old arrived at the back post unmarked to prod the ball at Meret from close range, and the goalkeeper just pushed it on its way into the net.
However, just six minutes later, it was Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti‘s own substitute masterclass that delivered all three points for the hosts, as replacement Simeone controlled a pass on the edge of the box, turned, and fired a shot past Patricio.
It’s this kind of depth that has made Napoli a different beast this season. Even in the absence of the likes of Osimhen, they’ve had reliable options to call upon in attack. Simeone struck late against Roma, and he will undoubtedly feel as much of a champion as anybody if and when Napoli go on to claim the Serie A title.