Osimhen helps Napoli avoid another letdown at Empoli
ROME (AP) — For Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti, a 2-0 win at Empoli on Saturday meant just as much as recent wins over Juventus, Roma and other big Serie A clubs.
That’s because Spalletti still regrets how Napoli squandered a two-goal advantage in a 3-2 loss at Empoli toward the end of last season to virtually eliminate the Partenopei from title contention.
This season, of course, seems altogether different with Napoli holding a comfortable lead. But Spalletti, who grew up as an Empoli fan, played for the Tuscan club and began his coaching career there, warned his side not to show any signs of weakness — since Empoli actually beat Napoli twice last season.
The players clearly listened, because Napoli was in control from start to finish en route to its eighth straight win in Serie A, extending its lead to 18 points over Inter Milan.
Pressure from Napoli forwards Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen led to an own goal from Ardian Ismajli 17 minutes in, then Osimhen doubled the advantage little more than 10 minutes later to mark his eighth straight match with a goal.
“Difficult ground, we know what happened last season here,” Osimhen said. “We needed these three points.”
The only negative note for Napoli was a red card to Mario Rui for a reaction foul midway through the second half.
Ismajli redirected a cross from Piotr Zielinski into his own net following a pass from Kvaratskhelia for Napoli’s opener. Then Osimhen converted a rebound of a shot from Kvaratskhelia for his league-best 19th.
Also, Napoli defender Kim Min-jae headed off the crossbar toward the end of the first half.
Diego Maradona led Napoli to its only Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
Empoli remained 12th.
Osimhen revealed he recently received a message from his childhood idol, Didier Drogba.
“It’s really amazing when you wake up or go on social media and see someone you have been looking up to growing up sending you a message like Drogba did,” Osimhen said. “I love what he did and I appreciate his confidence in me.”
Also, Sassuolo won at Lecce 1-0 with a second-half header from Kristian Thorstvedt.
Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf
More AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press