Empoli 0-2 Napoli: Osimhen strikes again as leaders surge 18 points clear

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Victor Osimhen hit his 10th Serie A goal since the turn of the year as leaders Napoli stretched their advantage to 18 points by winning 2-0 at Empoli.

The Nigerian has scored in his last eight domestic league games, with his efforts bringing a long-awaited Scudetto ever closer.

An early own goal from Ardian Ismajli gave Napoli a strong start, and Osimhen soon doubled the lead with an easy finish.

The victory on the road was tarnished by Mario Rui petulantly kicking out at Francesco Caputo and receiving a red card following a VAR check, but with games running out the Naples giants are looking unstoppable.

A 17th-minute breakthrough arrived when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia's ball from left to right was volleyed across goal by Piotr Zielinski, and Ismajli bundled the ball into his own net from close range.

It was 2-0 in the 28th minute and again Kvaratskhelia was involved, with his skidding shot parried by Guglielmo Vicario to the lurking Osimhen, who had a simple task of tucking past the floored goalkeeper.

Napoli moved in for the kill, and Kim Min-jae hit the underside of the bar from close range with an attempted header that turned into an effort off his shoulder.

Empoli won the corresponding game 3-2 last season after being 2-0 down, sealing a league double, so Napoli knew they had to be wary of a fightback from the mid-table hosts.

Osimhen thought he had scored again just before the hour when he ran in behind the Empoli defence and tucked home while stumbling under pressure, but he was narrowly offside when the pass was played.

The task was complicated for Napoli when their former Empoli left-back Rui was red-carded for his cheap shot at Caputo, catching the striker in a tender spot.

With a quarter of the game remaining, Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti responded by bringing off forwards Kvaratskhelia and Hirving Lozano, replacing them with midfielder Eljif Elmas and defender Mathias Olivera. In truth, Empoli never looked like taking advantage of their extra man and repeating last season's comeback heroics, having been firmly put in their place this time.

What does it mean? Different story for Napoli this season

Spalletti has turned Napoli into a winning machine, so when they burst into a 2-0 lead here it was inconceivable this game would go the same way as last season's fixture at the Stadio Carlo Castellani. Duly Napoli saw it out, fuss-free apart from Rui's moment of idiocy.

Second-placed Inter play at Bologna on Sunday, so Napoli came off the field knowing their 18-point lead might not last the weekend, but performances such as this are giving the distant chasing pack not a hint of encouragement.

That first Serie A title since the 1989-90 season is in Napoli's crosshairs, surely now a matter of time. They can stumble to the finish line now, such is their cushion.

Osimhen's happy new year

He didn't find the net in Napoli's first game of the year, a 1-0 reverse to Inter that remains their only league loss of the 2022-23 campaign. But Osimhen has struck in every league match since that setback, and at 24 years and 58 days he has become the second youngest player in the league's three points for a win era - since 1994-95 - to score in eight consecutive Serie A games.

Only Roberto Muzzi (23 years, 165 days for Cagliari in 1995) has had such a run at a younger age. Osimhen has 19 Serie A goals this season now.

Mario madness not Rui-nous for Napoli

Although they lost their starting left-back, Napoli still kept a clean sheet, their fourth in a row in Serie A, extending their run to 417 minutes without conceding in the league.

Rui's red card was Napoli's first of this league campaign and their first in the competition since October 31, 2021, when Kalidou Koulibaly was dismissed against Salernitana.

The dismissal was the fourth in Rui's Serie A career, and a first since September 2018.

Key Opta Stats: Only Weah ahead of Osimhen

- Osimhen became the first player to score in eight games in a row in a single Serie A season since Cristiano Ronaldo (11 between December 2019 and February 2020).
- Napoli became the third team to win five consecutive away games without conceding any goals in those matches in Serie A after Inter (twice) and Juventus (four separate occasions).
- Osimhen has scored 43 goals in Serie A; among African players, only George Weah (46) has scored more.
- Napoli have won 21 of the first 24 games in a single Serie A season for the first time in their history; they overtook their previous record in 2017-18 (20 wins at the same time of the season).
- Since January 2023, no other team has collected more clean sheets than Napoli (six) in the top five European leagues (equal with Nantes and Barcelona).

What's next?

Napoli host Lazio on Friday, while Empoli head to Monza the following day.