Venezia receive Okereke boost ahead of Hellas Verona visit

The Winged Lions will be grateful for the return of their star striker and top scorer ahead of a must-win game on Sunday

Okereke celebrates his winner against Roma

Venezia’s hopes of snapping a two-game losing streak have been given a huge boost by the return to fitness of striker David Okereke.

The 24-year-old was conspicuously absent in midweek as the Venetians suffered their heaviest defeat of the league season so far: a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Atalanta in the Gewiss Arena. A hattrick from Mario Pasalic and a well-placed finish by Dutch midfielder Teun Koopmeiners condemned Venezia to an eighth defeat of the season; only two clubs -- Spezia and Salernitana -- have lost more so far this season in Serie A.

Shorn of their leading man, Paolo Zanetti’s side struggled to trouble La Dea, with back-up striker Thomas Henry only managing one shot in the entire duration and substitute Dor Peretz missing their clearest chance of the game.

It will come as a relief then to the 38-year-old manager to have Okereke back in action for Sunday’s meeting with Hellas Verona. The former Club Brugge forward has returned to training, and is available for selection alongside fellow Nigeria international Tyronne Ebuehi -- who has missed Venezia’s last three matches due to injury -- and midfielder Antonio Vacca, who also was absent from the trip to Bergamo.

Okereke is Venezia’s joint-leading goalscorer in Serie A this season with four, a tally he shares with wide midfielder Mattia Aramu, and was on target in back-to-back wins over Roma and Bologna either side of the November international break.

Consecutive meetings with European-level opposition have stunted the club’s progress away from the foot of the table somewhat, and their tough run of fixtures is set to continue: they face Juventus, Lazio and AC Milan all within their next five matches following the visit of Hellas Verona. That raises the pressure on Zanetti -- and Okereke -- to get a result on Sunday and maintain a healthy buffer between Venezia and the relegation zone.

While Okereke will almost certainly be involved, it is unlikely that Ebuehi will be able to wrest a starting role from incumbent right-back Pasquale Mazzocchi.

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