How Lazio contained unstoppable Osimhen

Osimhen says racism against black players leaves a bad feeling.

ANALYSIS How Lazio contained unstoppable Osimhen

Solace Chukwu 12:35 - 05.03.2023

Not only was the Nigeria international unable to find the back of the net against Lazio, but he was kept as quiet as he has been all season by Maurizio Sarri's side. How did they do it?

On Friday night, Lazio did the seemingly impossible. 

Before their meeting with runaway league leaders Napoli, Victor Osimhen had scored in eight consecutive matches for the Partenopei, cementing his standing as one of Europe’s premier marksmen. His ability to pose a multiplicity of questions made him impossible to control, and when Le Aquile came to Naples, it was nailed on that Osimhen would equal David Trezeguet’s Serie A record and score in his ninth consecutive league match.

He did not. Not only did Napoli lose for only the second time this season, their sought-after no. 9 struggled to make an impression for much of the proceedings. 

var widgetLoaderConfig = widgetLoaderConfig || { CDN_URL: '', APP_LINK: 'desktop', API_URL: '', API_KEY: '2f852b4de2f3a5cf3188e74b33087bb4:2c18422f8e826a7d11aeed52edb2449e', LANG: 'en', REQUEST_INTERVAL: 30, ENABLE_BET_SLIP: false, AUTHOR: false, THEME: "light", TOURNAMENT_ORDER: "pulse_nigeria", LINK_OPTIONS_V2: { 'player' : { 'url': '/football/player/{playerId}' }, 'team' : { 'url': '/football/{teamId}' }, 'tournament': { 'url': '/football/competition/{tournamentId}' }, 'match': { 'url' : '/football/match/{matchId}', 'sort': { 'criteria': 'alphabetically', 'direction': 'asc' } }, 'configuration': { 'newWindow': false }, 'standings_tournament': { 'url': '/football/competition/{tournamentId}/standings' } } }; if (!document.querySelector('script[src=""]')) { window.setTimeout(function () { let scriptCss = document.createElement('link'); scriptCss.href = ''; scriptCss.rel = 'stylesheet'; scriptCss.type = 'text/css'; document.body.appendChild(scriptCss); let scriptTag = document.createElement('script'); scriptTag.src = ''; scriptTag.defer = true; scriptTag.onload = function () { window.setTimeout(function () { new SMPWidgetsLoader(widgetLoaderConfig); }, 200); }; document.head.appendChild(scriptTag); }, 0); } else { new SMPWidgetsLoader(widgetLoaderConfig); }

At the risk of a nerdgasm, here are some numbers that handily illustrate Osimhen’s ineffectuality on the night: against Lazio, the 24-year-old recorded his second-lowest Expected Goals (xG) tally of the campaign (0.3),second-fewest carries (8), fewest touches in the opposing penalty area (1), fifth-fewest touches (21), third-fewest passes received, and attempted not a single take-on. (All figures via FBref.)

How did Lazio manage it?

It is important to acknowledge, first of all, that Napoli (as a team) were, by their own standards, not at their best. However, by most metrics, their output was broadly in line with what they have produced so far this term, so the drop-off on their part was minimal – probably more mental than technical.

As far as actions on the pitch go, it was down more to what Lazio prevented Osimhen from doing.

Protecting the channel

There was a curious scarcity of runs in behind from Osimhen, especially considering Lazio kept a reasonably high line in open play. More often than not, Osimhen showed for the ball to feet, but the sort of arcing runs into the channel that have become something of a trademark were in short supply.

The reason for this was that Lazio got their distances right laterally. Not only did Maurizio Sarri’s side focus on stuffing up central areas, forcing Napoli to play out wide, they also kept their full-backs Adam Marusic and Elseid Hysaj in fairly deep positions, protecting the channel.

Lazio's average positions v Napoli (Sofascore)

This central compactness also protected half-spaces, making it harder for the back four to be pulled our of shape. Here, the Lazio wide players are positioned extremely deep – even behind their no.8s – taking up central midfield positions in order to provide foolproof coverage.

With the angled ball down the line taken out of the equation, the onus was on Napoli to play either play over the defence, a low-percentage play that demands perfection, of play to the flanks and progress that way.

Offside line

While it was not a concerted strategy of Lazio’s, they nevertheless were aggressive in terms of pushing up to catch Osimhen – not the most attentive when it comes to staying on the right side of the line at the best of times – out.

This in the 35th minute was perhaps the best example. As Kvicha Kvaratskhelia released the pass to Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Osimhen began his trademark movement to get on Patric’s blindside.

By the time the Napoli captain received the pass, however, the entire Lazio defence had pushed up as one, catching the striker offside.

Defending crosses

In general, Lazio’s defensive organisation was excellent. Overall, they reduced Napoli to 0.8 xG on the night, and a large part was down to their set-up in crossing situations.

Osimhen’s prowess in the air is well known: five of his 19 goals so far this season in Serie A have been assisted by crosses, and he holds the record for the largest vertical leap in the league since such records began to be compiled. Lazio had a two-pronged plan, however, especially in open play.

They were particularly aggressive and committed in terms of their closing down when the ball went wide (Napoli did not help themselves; as Luciano Spalletti observed afterwards, they too often “rushed moves down the flanks”, preventing them from working clearer openings.)

When that failed, however, their positional defending inside the box was excellent. The near-side centre-back positioned himself to cut out the ball across the near post, while the latter maintained access to Osimhen and the deepest midfielder – usually match winner Matias Vecino – remained in a position to intercept a possible ball into feet.

Patric covering the ball across the six-yard box, Romagnoli watching Osimhen, Vecino and Luis Alberto on hand to intercept a cut-back
From the other flank, this time Romagnoli covers the front post, Patric watches Osimhen, and Vecino in a good position to handle the cut-back
One last time: The near-side centre-back covers near post/six-yard box, his partner is on Osimhen, and deepest midfielder (in this case, Milinkovic-Savic) positions to impede the cut-back

It worked: Napoli only completed one cross (out of 20 attempted) into the Lazio penalty area. As if to underline his latent menace, from it, Osimhen crashed a header against the angle of post and bar.

The dark arts

The task of marshalling Osimhen largely fell to-back Patric, while centre-back partner Alessio Romagnoli played slightly deeper. The Spaniard had a good game, judging correctly when to go in on the Napoli no.9 and when to drop off.

However, when he did, he employed a fair bit of gamesmanship, focusing his tackles on the Nigerian’s upper body, specifically above chest height. Osimhen is famously wearing a protective face mask of course.

Deliberate? You be the judge.

Related content