And while the Nigeria international only scored and assisted once apiece in the Azzurri’s 5-2 spanking of Hellas Verona, he was crucially involved in all of Napoli’s goals on the day.
Against Verona, Osimhen was the channel through which Napoli's attack flowed
Monday night offered a first vision of the new Napoli – Victor Osimhen’s Napoli.
Having lost a number of influential components over the summer, Luciano Spalletti has doubled down on building the team around Osimhen. However, at Marcantonio Bentegodi, the structure was still a 4-3-3, there were only two debuts, and Osimhen’s tally of touches - 30 - was only a marginal uptick on his average of 26 per game from the 2021/22 season. The clearest indication of his increased centrality transcended the numbers.
For Kvicha Kvaratskhelia’s headed equaliser, Osimhen’s presence was directly instrumental. No one scored more headed goals in Serie A last season, the effect being that when the 23-year-old goes up for a flighted delivery, opposing defences take notice and seek to adjust accordingly.
Here, his implied menace attracted two centre-backs and arguably distracted the wing-back, allowing the Georgian debutant Kvaratskhelia to get in at the far post and head home.
The no.9 then struck just before half time, varying his movement by attacking the far post from a corner. For earlier deliveries, he had been a part of the throng at the front post, but this time he peeled around the back of the Verona defence, getting on the end of Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s near-post flick to open his account for the season.
Verona equalised early in the second half, threatening to make a contest out of it, but then Spalletti’s side streaked away, scoring twice in 10 minutes to take the game away from the hosts.
First, Osimhen dropped deep to receive, pulling Koray Gunter out of the Verona back line, before laying the ball off to the wide area.
Midfielder Piotr Zielinski promptly ran off Adrien Tameze and galloped into the gulf between the outside centre-backs to finish low past Lorenzo Montipo.
Then, the centre-forward demonstrated the value of movement, dragging the Verona defence out of joint to allow Stanislav Lobotka run through the middle and curl the fourth into the bottom corner.
While the assist officially went to Mario Rui, the goal simply would not happen without Osimhen’s run.
For the fifth and final goal, Osimhen made a double movement to steal in ahead of Gunter, before laying the ball off to substitute Matteo Politano to control and finish.
While the 5-2 margin was impressive, the jury remains out on whether Napoli will be a true player in the Scudetto race this season. Inevitably, being that he is now the totem of Spalletti’s side, that discussion will get boiled down to Osimhen himself: is he capable of carrying the responsibility of a title charge?
From a numbers perspective, he will need to drastically improve his production, especially against the big sides. However, from a tactical perspective, the win over Verona proved his adaptability: for the first time since he joined, it was not a matter of the team playing for him or not; Napoli played through him.