Potential MVP Osimhen leading Napoli’s improbable Serie A challenge

Potential MVP Osimhen leading Napoli’s improbable Serie A challenge

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Potential MVP Osimhen leading Napoli’s improbable Serie A challenge

The Super Eagle is one of the Partenopei’s trio of Africans so far overachieving and already making Neapolitans dare to dream

Napoli remain the only side in Europe’s top five leagues with a 100-percent league record, but they’ve already had to leap over a few hurdles despite remaining unblemished.

Eight wins from eight have been earned by Luciano Spalletti’s men who are so far exceeding expectations in Serie A. The Partenopei — having missed out on the Champions League spots in successive seasons — began 2021/22 with one objective: to end in the top four.

Heading into Sunday’s Derby del Sole in Rome, another victory over Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma will undoubtedly attract a great deal of attention.

The side from Naples have never won nine on the trot at the start of the season in their top flight history and reaching that feat against a Giallorossi side on a six-game winning streak at Stadio Olimpico will be another feather in their cap.

Will Victor Osimhen and Napoli win Serie A this season?

It’ll be another hurdle negotiated in a campaign that’s already seen them battle with 10 men to beat Venezia on the opening day, score a late winner at Genoa, come from behind to record 2-1 victories over Juventus and Fiorentina in Naples and Florence respectively and eke out a late 1-0 success against Torino last week.

Victor Osimhen, Napoli’s in-form attacker, was the match-winner at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium last time out, rising above the Turin outfit’s defence to bookend this ongoing 2021/22 narrative.

Admonished for his sending off on the opening day, the Nigerian’s decisive header in gameweek eight has put the Azzurri within one win of making the best top flight start in the club’s history.

In reality, though, the early dismissal against Venezia has only been a bump in the road since the player’s upswing in the final months under Gennaro Gattuso last season.

His pre-season form — he netted eight times, including a quick-fire brace at Bayern Munich — indicated he’d have a storming second year and the five domestic strikes since September’s international break is bettered by Karim Benzema (seven) and Erling Haaland (six) in Europe’s top five leagues.

With last season’s Serie A Most Valuable Player, Romelu Lukaku, no longer at Inter Milan and Cristiano Ronaldo, the winner in the award’s inaugural year in 2018/19, now back at Manchester United, ’21/22 could be Osimhen’s year.

If his form holds for the majority of the campaign and Napoli claim the Scudetto that has eluded them in a generation, the soaring Super Eagle has to be a frontrunner for the honour.

Be that as it may, Napoli’s failure to triumph domestically since the late Diego Maradona inspired two triumphs in four years in 1986/87 and ‘89/90 is an undoubted cautionary tale.

That success has cast a shadow over the little triumphs since and supporters, despite the hope and optimism, certainly aren’t counting their chickens after eight games.

Kalidou Koulibaly will be well aware of the dangers of celebrating prematurely, having seen elation turn to disappointment in the space of a week in 2017/18—the club’s last real Serie A challenge.

The Senegal superstar netted a dramatic bullet header in a 1-0 win at Juventus to put Maurizio Sarri’s troops one point behind the Old Lady with four games to play, only to get sent off after eight minutes the following week at Fiorentina—a game they lost 3-0.

Sarri’s team had been top for 21 weekends and accumulated 91 points, but they fell short…again. They relinquished top spot following a 4-2 home defeat by Roma in gameweek 27 and Juve held on till the very end.

Some time has passed since, but Koulibaly’s hurt probably still feels fresh.

After a couple of underwhelming seasons blighted by injuries, the Senegal man mountain has looked revived under Spalletti, playing every minute in the league and Europa League at the heart of the defence.

The former Roma and Inter boss has extolled Osimhen and Koulibaly at every opportunity since taking over, interestingly remarking he was prepared to go to extreme lengths to keep K2 at the club in the summer.

Indeed, the pair’s performances domestically and in Europe so far demonstrate why.

There has to be room for Andre Zambo Anguissa, whose dynamism and energy has boosted the Azzurri in the middle of the park.

It’ll be remiss to fail to recognise how the Fulham loanee has been one of the revelations so far, adding a certain thrust to the side with his driving runs from deep and dribbling ability.

Spalletti is happy to have the Cameroon man fly under the radar, but this will prove difficult for someone who’s contributing immensely to their build-up and lending a huge hand in finishing off moves in the attacking third—he ranks fourth for in-play passes leading to shots and sits joint-second for open play passes contributing to goals.

However, January and parts of February will pose problems, with Osimhen, Koulibaly and Anguissa departing for Africa Cup of Nations duty.

Nigeria’s talented squad are expected to go deep in the competition, as are the Senegal side looking to go one step further after ending runners-up in Egypt in 2019.

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Tournament hosts Cameroon are determined to claim a sixth Afcon title and a first in their backyard, potentially leaving the Italian side without three pivotal players at the turn of the year.

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Spalletti reckons his team have the necessary depth, a claim he stressed before Thursday’s 3-0 European success over Legia Warsaw but they are likely to be stretched with the trio absent in early 2022.

While the Partenopei look primed for a title challenge with Osimhen leading the African contingent in this open Serie A season, recent history means Neapolitans won’t be counting their chickens untimely.

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