Napoli's n.9 had a strong performance against Inter, but his lack of skill limits both his potential and his impact in big games.
On Saturday evening, title hopefuls Napoli failed to make up ground on league leaders Inter in their top of the table Serie A clash at San Paolo.
A first-half penalty, converted by Lorenzo Insigne, was cancelled out by Edin Dzeko in the second period to keep the one-point gap between the two sides intact. The Nerazzuri have a game in hand, however, and so this was a huge missed opportunity for Luciano Spalletti’s side.
On the plus side for the home side, returning number 9 Victor Osimhen pitched in with his second goal contribution in as many starts since his return from a long-term injury. Having headed home the winner last time out against Venezia, he won the penalty for the opener, exacting a measure of short-lived revenge on the same Inter team against whom he sustained that facial fracture back in November.
The Nigeria international was his usual busy self, firing off four shots and relishing a running battle with Netherlands international Stefan de Vrij at the heart of the Inter defence. However, as the game got more and more stretched in the second half, he had a number of chances presented to him on the counter. Had he been able to take them, Napoli might well have stolen it at the death.
That he could not brought to the fore the one big deficiency in Osimhen’s game: his relative lack of dribbling ability one-on-one with defenders.
While the former Lille forward is well capable of holding off pressure from behind or executing a quick turn to create separation from his marker, when faced up with a defender he struggles for a consistent means of getting past and through on goal.
Of course, no player at 23 – except perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at that age – is perfect at every facet of play that their role demands, and very few will go on to be. As far as reaching a high level of performance goes, it is enough for a player to lean on his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses in other ways.
For Osimhen, his explosive stride, agility and physicality mean he can simply accelerate past defenders on some occasions, or power through them on the way to goal. These assets, combined with his seemingly inexhaustible desire, make him the nightmare that he is to come up against.
However, without that ability to beat a man, Osimhen is sometimes incapable of turning promising situations into truly clear chances and shots on goal.
Now, it is important to iterate that this is not a prerequisite for a centre-forward. Osimhen is doing perfectly fine without it as is. Instead, it is about potentially taking the step from ‘great’ to ‘world-class’---that final 10 per cent.
Without it, when he comes up against the calibre of defender that can match him for strength and pace, what will his recourse be?
Granted, that will not happen often. However, when it does, it will be in the big matches, at the highest levels against the best defenders. That's where what seems unnecessary now will become vital.
If this seems nit-picky: there is a reason Osimhen has only scored one goal in 12 games against the other members of Italy's modern seven sisters: Inter, AC Milan, Juventus, Roma, Atalanta and Lazio. It is not a coincidence.
There is plenty to enjoy about Osimhen’s style and energy, and as far as his potential goes, he is still tracking to become a great centre-forward. However, it is in the biggest games that world-class status is confirmed; without the skill to assert himself in those encounters, world-class status will probably elude him.
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