Updated March 8th, 2024 at 11:01 IST

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Victor Osimhen are scoring again at Napoli under third coach of the season

It took three coaches for Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen to rediscover the form that drove Napoli to the Serie A crown last season.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A soccer match between Napoli and Juventus at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium | Image: AP
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It took three coaches for Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen to rediscover the form that drove Napoli to the Serie A crown last season.

Kvaratskhelia's woes, in particular, have been emblematic of Napoli’s troubled title defense. The Georgian dribbling wizard was a revelation in his first season in Italy and was named Serie A MVP for being a key part of Luciano Spalletti’s title-winning team.

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But Kvaratskhelia struggled to replicate that scintillating form for Rudi Garcia and then Walter Mazzarri . He was even benched in Garcia’s last game in charge in November, a 1-0 home loss to lowly Empoli.

However, under Napoli’s third coach of the season — Francesco Calzona — Kvaratskhelia has scored three goals in his past two matches and added an assist.

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Osimhen has fared even better under Calzona with five goals in four matches since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, where he helped Nigeria reach the final.

Osimhen almost got on the scoresheet again last weekend but had a late penalty — which he earned — parried by Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Giacomo Raspadori fired home the rebound to snatch a 2-1 Napoli win .

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“We’re getting back on the right path and we don’t want to stop here,” Raspadori said. “I’m so pleased, particularly for the team. We deserved this win and we knew it would be crucial in terms of our resurgence.”

Napoli was on course for one of the worst title defenses in league history when Calzona replaced the fired Mazzarri last month despite never having been in charge of a club team.

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Calzona began his tenure with a 1-1 draw against Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16. He started in Serie A with a draw against Cagliari before a 6-1 thrashing of Sassuolo and then the morale-boosting victory over Juventus.

Napoli is up to seventh and will be looking to further cut the eight-point gap to fourth-placed Bologna on Friday when it plays Torino.

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“We’re rediscovering a mentality that has been missing,” Raspadori said. “Under Calzona we’ve had a reset. We’re playing on the front foot and we’ve freed our heads from the difficult moments.

“We’re trying to play the sort of football that we showcased so often last year. This means that we certainly need to keep improving and trying to reach our target of fourth place while it’s possible.”

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The victory over Juventus was a strong sign of Napoli’s resurgence. But more stern tests are coming.

Napoli travels to Spain for the return leg against Barcelona on Tuesday before playing runaway Serie A leader Inter Milan and Atalanta, which is one of its main rivals for a Champions League spot.

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“We’re on the right path, but, of course, there’s so much room for improvement,” Calzona said. "It’s clear that winning certain games can send out a big message both technically and mentally.

“You can’t perform miracles in 10 days, so full credit to the players, who are trying to rediscover their identity.”

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Published March 8th, 2024 at 11:01 IST