Osimhen in danger, disappointing Dessers and red-hot Moffi: Status report on Nigeria strikers
Victor Osimhen’s loud bellow after seeing the assistant referee’s flag in the 79th minute of Napoli’s eventual 4-2 success over Ajax was unmistakable.
Intent to open his Champions League account for the club, the Super Eagle’s ambition was evident after he replaced the outstanding Giacomo Raspadori after 50 minutes with the Azzurri 2-1 up at the time.
He chased down lost causes and provided a threat behind the Ajax backline, notably getting caught offside three times.
A busy night at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium saw the young marksman attempt three shots in 40 minutes — a Napoli-high — be involved in two shot-creating actions — outdone by Piotr Zielinski and Giovanni Di Lorenzo (both four) — and strikingly accumulate Expected Goals (xG) of 1.7, owing to the quality of chances received.
The 23-year-old was not to be denied, nonetheless. Indeed, it was fitting of Osimhen to score after leading a one-man press, briefly breaking away from Luciano Spalletti’s scheme without the ball to harry and dispossess the dallying Daley Blind of possession in the final minute of normal time.
That goal sealed the Partenopei’s fourth consecutive Champions League group stage victory of the campaign, confirming progress to the first knockout round with two games to spare.
For Osimhen’s part, the outpouring of emotion after his self-made 90th-minute effort was likely an upshot of the pent-up desire to prove a point after several weeks on the sidelines.
The Nigeria superstar was replaced in the opening half of Napoli’s 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool and had to bide his time until Wednesday’s introduction. The frustration felt by the former Lille frontman after another injury that threatened to slow down momentum in year three in Naples probably increased game by game.
In truth, Osimhen was not missed in those six games. Admittedly, Spalletti’s men did not have a natural number nine willing to run with the ball aggressively and offer a threat behind opponents’ defences but appeared to play differently and thrive with Raspadori playing down the middle.
Napoli’s combination play in the attacking third improved a notch with the Italy international often dropping deep to link up with teammates, knitting the attack together rather than focusing on through-balls to run onto.
This is not to dismiss the Super Eagle’s improvement in this area under Spalletti but to recognise Raspadori’s proficiency.
"He has to play more with the team,” Spalletti professed after the game. “He missed an easy goal, but this is one. He is not very good at dribbling with his teammates, but for us, he is an important player, and 50 minutes is a lot.”
Indeed, Osimhen’s spot as a starter is under threat for the first time since moving to Italy.
Wonder what Raspadori's form means for Osimhen.— Seye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) October 4, 2022
Napoli have probably looked more coherent without a natural number nine in the last few weeks.
Of course, Gennaro Gattuso and the incumbent tended to lean on Dries Mertens intermittently before the Belgian’s departure, but the Nigerian was recognised as the guy to lead the new era.
His price tag and potential meant this was the sensible approach, too.
Yet, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia looks to have taken the spotlight since the departures of Lorenzo Insigne and Mertens, and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa appears to have replaced him as the club’s foremost African since the sale of Kalidou Koulibaly.
Osimhen was a man on a mission on Wednesday, and he seemed intent on making a statement at the Maradona.
“Osimhen was often offside because he was so eager that he started the runs early,” explained Spalletti.
The weeks leading up to the World Cup will pose selection problems for the Napoli boss, and it will be fascinating to see who gets the nod for the central striking role.
It has been far from smooth sailing for Cyriel Dessers in Cremonese, although it has not been for the want of trying.
Despite the newly-promoted side’s struggles to consistently fashion out chances — only three teams have worse Expected Goals, they are currently outdoing three sides in creating big chances and are outdoing just two teams for through-balls played — the former Genk frontman’s involvement in open play has been commendable.
Dessers sits second behind David Okereke for Shot-Creating Actions per 90, although he outranks his strike partner 12-11 for the volume of open-play involvements leading to shot attempts.
The striker may be shooting more infrequently than he is used to but reassuringly got the proverbial monkey off his back in Sunday’s 4-1 defeat by Napoli.
There was no assist for the striker’s finish, but his movement as the move developed was striking.
As Leonardo Sernicola and Santiago Ascacibar bypassed Zambo Anguissa and Tanguy Ndombele with a give-and-go, Dessers pulled away from Napoli centre-back Min-Jae Kim who was drawn to Ascacibar.
His movement and Kim’s momentary panic created separation and allowed the Cremonese have that extra second to finally open his account for La Cremo at the ninth time of asking.
Primo gol in Serie A, segnare sotto la nostra curva é stata una grandissima emozione.— Cyriel Dessers (@CyrielDessers) October 10, 2022
Continuiamo a crescere, al prossimo! Forza Cremo🔘🔴 #CremoneseNapoli pic.twitter.com/e4NnYhrQu0
The second-bottom side in Serie A still have a long way to go before survival is discussed. They are winless on their return to the top flight after a 26-year wait, falling to six defeats in their opening nine games and statistically have the worst defence in the division heading into round 10.
Nevertheless, Massimiliano Alvini will look to get even more out of Dessers, who has now netted for club and country (Nigeria’s untelevised draw with Algeria B) in the last three weeks. With him scoring, beating the drop could remain a possibility.
In Ligue 1, Lorient have begun the 2022-23 campaign unprecedentedly, winning eight of their opening 10 fixtures.
They have won their last six and are doing it by outscoring the opponents, with their most recent clean sheet coming against Ajaccio at the start of the current run.
The sustainability of Regis Le Bris’ team’s start can be questioned, especially when the underlying numbers show that they should be around mid-table, not one point behind Paris Saint-Germain after the 10th gameweek.
Terem Moffi has epitomised the team’s unanticipated start, jointly leading the scoring charts with PSG’s Neymar and Kylian Mbappe (eight goals) after scoring his third brace at Stade Brest last time out.
Last weekend’s double in the turnaround saw the Lorient forward match the preceding season’s return, and he will have 2020-21’s 14-goal tally in his sights.
Indeed, it is doable if the centre-forward continues to finish as proficiently as he did against Brest: firing a half-volley in off the post from a tight angle on his weaker right foot and reacting quicker than anyone to a loose ball before finding the right-hand corner of the goal.
Moffi’s underlying numbers show that he is outperforming his Expected Goals, with the striker’s non-penalty xG overperformance ranking highest in Ligue 1 and puts him in the top 20 in Europe’s top five leagues.
Lorient are undoubtedly enjoying the ride, as is Moffi, whose start to the season puts him on pace to set a new personal best at the season’s denouement.
Osimhen, Dessers and Moffi have had contrasting campaigns, but they have not been devoid of narratives. This could change over the coming weeks, for better or worse, so keen-eyed observers will watch their progress or otherwise with interest.