Napoli 2-0 Atalanta: Kvaratskhelia wonder goal brings Scudetto ever closer
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia hit a stunning winner as Napoli beat Atalanta 2-0 to move 18 points clear again at the top of Serie A.
The 11th goal of the Georgian's debut Serie A season came in the 60th minute, with his twinkle-toed run into the penalty area followed by an explosive finish.
Fed the ball by Victor Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia still had plenty of work to do and left Atalanta captain Rafael Toloi bamboozled by his shimmying footwork, with the defenders collectively powerless to prevent a masterpiece.
Amir Rrahmani's looping header in the 77th minute made the points safe, as Eljif Elmas sent a corner from the right into the danger zone and the centre-back did the rest.
With first-choice goalkeeper Alex Meret injured in the warm-up, Napoli fielded on-loan back-up Pierluigi Gollini, who faced his parent club. The home side were not obviously jolted by that loss and dominated the first half, but they could not find a breakthrough before the interval.
Matteo Politano saw an early effort turned wide for a corner, while Kvaratskhelia had three goal attempts that brought no reward.
Atalanta won 3-2 in this fixture last season, coming from behind to win as Napoli on that occasion slipped from first to third place. But such was their lead in the standings this time, Napoli knew they would stay comfortably top whatever the result, regardless of last week's defeat to Lazio giving the chasing pack a sliver of hope.
Kvaratskhelia smashed over the bar from the edge of the penalty area early in the second half, with Napoli creating plenty of half-chances. Osimhen spurned a more clear opening when the Serie A top scorer headed wide from Politano's right-wing cross.
But then came Kvaratskhelia's special strike, a goal of quality that is rarely surpassed. He was player of the month in Serie A for February, and this underlined his blossoming talent.
Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel went close as Atalanta chased a leveller, Gollini defying the visitors with necessary saves from both forwards, but Rrahmani's header killed off the contest.
What does it mean? Napoli closing on Scudetto
Defeat for second-placed Inter at Spezia on Friday eased the pressure on Luciano Spalletti's Napoli, and that result felt to some extent like a white flag from the distant chasing pack.
Napoli's loss to Lazio had resulted in their lead being clipped to 15 points, but Inter's defeat meant they were assured of coming out of this round with at least a 17-point cushion.
This 22nd win from 26 games moves Napoli ever closer to that first league title since 1989-90, with the only real downside being injuries to Meret before kick-off and defender Kim Min-jae in the second half.
It's why they call him Kvara-dona
Kvaratskhelia has been a remarkable acquisition by Napoli, giving them the extra edge they were missing last season, when they could not last the pace after a fast start to the campaign.
Given his sublime dribbling skills, and the fact there is an end product to boot, it was inevitable he should be compared to Diego Maradona, the Napoli great who drove the club to two Serie A titles.
The goal he scored on Saturday would have been one Maradona would have gladly put his name to, and it moved Kvaratskhelia to a combined 20 goal involvements in Serie A this term (11 goals, nine assists).
Atalanta's forwards threatened in the minutes between the two Napoli goals, but this was another game in which the opposition drew a blank against the Naples giants.
Napoli have kept a clean sheet in 13 of their 26 Serie A games so far, conceding a league-low 16 goals.
For all their excellence going forward, this title charge has been built on a strong defensive platform.
Napoli will look to convert a 2-0 first-leg lead into an aggregate victory when they host Eintracht Frankfurt at the Champions League last-16 stage on Wednesday. Atalanta are back on Serie A duty on Friday when they play at home against Empoli.