Morning Chronicle - Osimhen fires Napoli into heart of three-way Serie A title tussle

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Osimhen fires Napoli into heart of three-way Serie A title tussle
Osimhen fires Napoli into heart of three-way Serie A title tussle

Osimhen fires Napoli into heart of three-way Serie A title tussle

Victor Osimhen scored on his first Napoli start since November to help his team to a 2-0 win at Venezia on Sunday which moves them one point behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

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Nigeria striker Osimhen had made two brief substitute appearances since fracturing bones in his face in a sickening head clash at Inter, and rewarded coach Luciano Spalletti's decision to pick him by leaping to head Napoli ahead just before the hour mark at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.

Andrea Petagna sealed the points in the 100th minute of a match extended due a clash of heads between the referee and Venezia's Tyronne Ebuehi, as well as that same player's late red card for a dreadful foul on Dries Mertens.

"I prepared well for this game, had a good week and was ready to kick on from the first minute," Osimhen told DAZN.

"And of course to start with a goal, I'm really happy about this performance from the whole squad."

Wearing a special face mask he described as a "good look for me", Osimhen's sixth Serie A goal of the season -- his first since mid-October -- fired Napoli right back into a three-way league title tussle.

Napoli are second, level on 52 points with AC Milan who broke open the race for the Scudetto as Olivier Giroud's derby double saw off Inter on Saturday.

Like Milan, Napoli have played a game more than Inter but they host the champions next weekend before travelling to Barcelona for the first leg of their Europa League play-off with the Catalan giants.

"We have a lot of objectives this season and the Scudetto is one of them, so step by step and with determination I think we'll get there," added Osimhen.

Osimhen could have had another as he struck the post in the first half but Napoli had to battle their way past Venezia, who are in the relegation zone following defeat and Cagliari's 2-1 win at 10-man Atalanta earlier on Sunday.

- Pereiro lifts Cagliari -

Gaston Pereiro earned Walter Mazzarri's Cagliari their third win in five league matches to move them up to 17th, two points ahead of Venezia.

The 26-year-old gave Cagliari a surprise lead four minutes after half-time in Bergamo, and was crucial to Atalanta going a man down when he was brought down by onrushing goalkeeper Juan Musso just moments later.

Fourth-placed Atalanta, who will drop out of the Champions League positions if Juventus beat Verona on Sunday night, pulled level through Jose Luis Palomino in the 64th minute.

However the hopeful home fans were silenced again four minutes later when Pereiro rolled home the winner from Raoul Bellanova's low cross.

"We played badly, and never really troubled Cagliari," said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini.

"We need to get our heads back and focus on being a team, because that performance was not good enough."

Atalanta have a game in hand but also have a fight on their hands to keep Champions League football after previously looking like title contenders.

They host Juve next weekend and will have to do without Duvan Zapata for that match and their Italian Cup tie with Fiorentina, with the Colombia forward pulling up just 14 minutes after coming off the bench for his first appearance of 2022.

Sampdoria took advantage of 18th-placed Venezia's defeat by thumping Sassuolo 4-0 and going five points clear of the bottom three.

Marco Giampaolo's Samp won thanks to two stunning volleys from Francesco Caputo and Andrea Conti, a goal from Stefano Sensi on his debut after arriving on loan from Inter and Antonio Candreva's late penalty.

Bologna and Empoli played out a goalless draw in the afternoon's other match.