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AC Milan

Napoli cannot repeat Osimhen oversight vs Inter Milan

Gennaro Gattuso strangely chose to leave the in-form frontman out of his XI vs Juventus recently, but can’t afford a repeat against the Nerazzurri

The Serie A title is evidently destined for Milan, with Inter Milan’s amazing form since the turn of the year turning what seemed to be a jostle with their city rivals AC Milan into a procession.

What remains up in the air in Italy, however, remains the race to end in the three spots below the in-form Nerazzurri, who have picked up 11 league wins on the trot. Four teams appear to be in the mix, with second-placed Milan (63) only four points ahead of Napoli in fifth with eight games remaining.

Given the closeness of the teams from second to sixth (Lazio, currently four points behind the side from Naples, could move within a point of fifth if their 3-0 automatic win over Torino stands), level-headed decisions have to be made as the season reaches the home straight.

Speaking of decisions, Gennaro Gattuso probably went to bed on April 7 ruing the call not to start Victor Osimhen in Napoli’s spare game at Juventus. The Azzurri disappointingly lost the encounter in Turin 2-1 when a win would have taken them three points ahead of Andrea Pirlo’s ropey outfit.

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This criticism of the ex-Italy international isn’t being made in hindsight, as Goal believed the Nigeria star was primed to punish the flawed Old Lady after his upswing in performances during the international break.

Rather than play the West African from the off, though, Gattuso instead began with the approach that won his team important points against Milan and Roma in March. While this was expected to an extent, the improvement and sharpness in the frontman before the Juventus clash meant he had to play from the off.

The Milan icon’s strategy in the aforementioned matches was, after all, largely a consequence of the forward’s struggles with his form and fitness in 2021, so the marked difference ought to have prompted an alteration in stratagem.

Introducing the in-form striker as early as the 54th minute was an admission of his initial error and the ex-Lille attacker had a lively game after his entrance. He evidently aimed to take advantage of the less mobile Giorgio Chiellini, which eventually led to the penalty through which Lorenzo Insigne halved the deficit in second-half stoppage time.

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Osimhen had more touches in the penalty area (seven) than any player on the pitch despite featuring for 36 minutes and wasn’t shot-shy in that time, attempting three attempts as Napoli chased the game after half-time.

Brought back in last time out vs Sampdoria, the ex-Lille striker was involved in more shot-creating actions (six) than everyone else and beat his previous best involvements before a shot (five) recorded against Parma on his official debut in gameweek one.

Importantly, the young forward netted with a driven effort beyond Emil Audero for his fifth Serie A goal of the campaign. Having netted in successive home fixtures either side of the international break, the talented 22-year-old has now scored in his last two starts for Napoli and has clocked up four goal involvements for club and country in as many appearances.

“We are seeing the real Osimhen. He had to settle in as soon as he arrived in Italy. Now he is starting to show what he was also doing at Lille,” former Inter midfielder Benoit Cauet was quoted as saying by Napoli Magazine.

From the outside looking in, it ought to be an easy call opting to start with the in-form, confident Nigerian vs Antonio Conte’s champions-elect, but these decisions sometimes play out differently in reality.

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Given Dries Mertens’ inability to get into the game at Juventus and the failure of a similar approach in the reverse fixture at San Siro (Inter beat an in-form Azzurri side 1-0), perhaps Gattuso will lean on the persevering centre-forward in a game that strengthens their position in the Champions League qualification run-in.

After playing Inter, the club from Naples play only one team from the top seven (Lazio) in their remaining fixtures. They still face Torino, Cagliari, Spezia and Fiorentina — all in the bottom six with the former pair battling relegation — 12th-place Udinese and out-of-form Hellas Verona in mid-table, making them favourites on paper to seal a top-four place.

Contrast this with Milan who still meet Lazio, Juventus and Atalanta on the final day; Pirlo’s side are yet to face Atalanta (this weekend), the Rossoneri and Conte’s men while La Dea play the Old Lady, Roma and Stefano Pioli’s Milan side in gameweek 38.

Inter, meanwhile, appear home and hosed to end their decade-long wait for a Scudetto after racking up 11 wins on the bounce to put them within touching distance of ending Juve’s stranglehold in the top flight.

As for Napoli, they look like the frontrunners to end in the top four despite currently sitting outside the desired slots. Gattuso is likely to depart in the summer after enduring a problematic relationship with Aurelio De Laurentiis in recent months.

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CL qualification may convince manager and club to delay their separation for another year, and relying on Osimhen, who seemingly has a new lease of life, could encourage that truce as Naples hopes to host Europe’s elite teams next season.

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