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Osimhen vs Mourinho: Will Roma boss limit Napoli forward’s threat again?

14:53 GMT+3 22/10/2022
Mourinho, Osimhen -  Roma, Napoli
The reverse fixture last season saw the Portuguese overcome the Nigerian’s threat, and a similar outcome will be welcome in Rome

It goes without saying to suggest Victor Osimhen has taken up the gauntlet to fight for his spot at Napoli.

In the month the Nigerian missed after his withdrawal in the Partenopei’s 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool in early September, Luciano Spalletti turned to Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori, with the latter especially rising to the challenge to lead the line in Osimhen’s absence.

The confidence in the Italy attacker preceding Napoli’s Champions League double-header was palpable, with suggestions already growing that the former Sassuolo man was a better fit for Luciano Spalletti’s approach.

That logic was not misplaced.

With Raspadori, Napoli appeared to coalesce smoothly in the attack, with the 22-year-old willing to drop into midfield and also combine with the wide attackers on either side.

This is no slight on Osimhen, whose link-up and combination play has never been poor — and arguably improved under Spalletti last season — but has often been reprimanded by the experienced tactician for his keenness to prioritise runs in behind opponents.

Raspadori, by contrast, is a tad more flexible than the Nigeria international, precipitating Napoli’s best performances of the season without their big-money arrival in the summer of 2020.

The challenge had been issued to Osimhen, and keen-eyed observers monitored the forward’s response.

Indeed, if the Nigerian’s performances in Napoli’s Champions League success versus Ajax and last weekend’s rip-roaring 3-2 victory over Bologna are anything to go by, he is not surrendering his spot in the team without a fight.

The tenacity and exuberance were evident in the 4-2 success over the Eredivisie outfit and his pressing of Daley Blind in the game’s closing stages, probably off the cuff, was typical of the striker. The celebration that ensued showed what scoring meant to him on a night that saw the Azzurri make European history at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Last weekend’s celebration against Bologna was not as wild, but the left-footed effort was demonstrative of Osimhen’s inclination to run onto through-balls.

The player strikingly replaced Raspadori at half-time and made the decisive impact, latching on to Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s pass to make it 3-2 to the Partenopei with 20 minutes of normal time remaining.

Notably, Osimhen was caught offside four times in the aforementioned wins over Ajax and Bologna, as opposed to Raspadori who clocked zero offsides in both encounters, indicative of their different profiles.

Spalletti has a tough decision to make heading into round 11 with Napoli visiting Roma on Sunday evening looking to extend the Naples outfit’s unbeaten run against the Giallorossi to six. However, last season’s meetings ended in stalemates and were not kind to the Super Eagle.

Osimhen had netted 11 times for club and country preceding last season’s meeting in Rome, but a three-game scoring run for Nigeria and Napoli was halted at Stadio Olimpico.

“The game had a lot of transitions in it,” Jose Mourinho stated after the 0-0 draw. “They tried to play directly with Osimhen and then bring others into play around him.

“I liked the organisation and the way we controlled Osimhen’s attempts to get into space because controlling him is far from easy.”

The Nigerian did hit the woodwork twice at the Olimpico, although neither chance came in attacking transitions and only one came from open play.

In the reverse fixture at the Maradona, Mourinho extended his unbeaten run over Spalletti as a late Stephan El Shaarawy effort saw it end 1-1 in Naples on Easter Monday. Osimhen hit the woodwork again, albeit at the wrong end, and saw a powered effort from an attacking transition hit the side of the net.

This year’s clash comes with both clubs not only improved versions of their 2021-22 iterations but separated by four points in Serie A. Mourinho’s crew are the lowest scorers (13) in the top six separated by only five points, although it has not been for the want of trying.

Only Napoli (21.4) have higher Expected Goals (xG) than Roma (20.1) in the entire division but the capital club have been let down by their off-kilter finishing, claiming lone-goal wins in each of their last three league games.

Spalletti has never beaten Mourinho in six meetings, and there is a feeling this current Napoli gives the Tuscan his best chance of ending that run at the seventh attempt.

He will need Osimhen to make it three goals in three and be third-time lucky against a Mourinho side after last year’s frustration. Success for the marksman will validate his claim to reclaim a starting berth, failure will not be fatal but it could hand the initiative to competitive rival Raspadori.