Lookman Scores, And Osimhen Grabs An Assist On His Return From Injury To Inspire Napoli's Win In Walter Mazzarri's First Game As New Boss.

New Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri marked his return ‘debut’ with a sensational victory following a much needed 2-1 win away at Atalanta on Saturday night courtesy of goals from Kvicha Kvaratskhelia and Eljif Elmas and an assist from the returning Victor Osimhen.

Napoli's title defence has so far lacked the flair and conviction of last season. Having a poor start to the season so far with the disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to lowly Empoli before the international break, proved to be the final straw that led to the departure of former boss Rudi Garcia.

CloudNine Sports reported that Mazzarri was brought in as his replacement last week, which will now be is his second spell in charge of Napoli. 

He signed an initial seven-month contract at Stadio Maradona, and his men now have plenty of catching up to do, as they sit fourth in Serie A and are also at risk of missing out on a place in the Champions League's knockout phase.

The 62-year-old had guided the Partenopei into the the last 16 of the Champions League, as well as Coppa Italia glory in 2012, beating undefeated league champions Juventus in the final to win the club’s first major trophy in over two decades, as well as a second-place finish in Serie A during his first spell between 2009 and 2013 before leaving for Inter Milan.

Mazzarri has picked up from where he left off following his side 2-1 victory against Atalanta, although his side were tested several times during the encounter at the Gewiss stadium in Bergamo, as they held off their opponent.

The reigning champions had taken a 33rd-minute lead, only for Amir Rrahmani’s header to be disallowed for offside.

But Napoli did break the deadlock just before half-time when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia headed home Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s cross to hand the visitors the lead in the 44th minute.

Atalanta responded really well after the break and equalised in the 53rd minute as Nigeria Super Eagles forward Ademola Lookman sent in a towering header into the back of the net to draw level before Mario Pasalic was denied by the offside flag as the hosts threatened to complete the turnaround.

Nigerian talisman Victor Osimhen then came in off the bench in the 64th minute replacing Giacomo Raspadori and he did so without his trademark protective mask which he has been wearing since the horrific head clash with Milan Skriniar in the trip to Inter in October 2021.

Osimhen recent hamstring injury occurred while playing for Nigeria in an international friendly against Saudi Arabia in October 2023, and has missed Napoli’s previous six games across all competitions.

The 24-year-old has scored six goals in nine appearances for Napoli this season.

In his absence, Napoli had failed to win their last two games with a draw against Union Berlin in the Champions League and a home defeat to Empoli on November 12.

Napoli restored their lead against Atalanta when Osimhen intercepted a poor clearance from Marco Carnesecchi and rolled it across for unmarked fellow substitute Eljif Elmas to turn in from six yards at the back post.

The winning goal from North Macedonia midfielder Elf Elmas 11 minutes from time gave Napoli all three points, lifting them above Milan to third place in the Serie A table with Atalanta in sixth. 

Mazzarri’s team are still seven points behind leaders Inter Milan who travel to Turin on Sunday for the weekend’s big match at second-placed Juventus.

AC Milan will move back above Napoli into third if they beat Fiorentina at the San Siro in Saturday’s late fixture.

Both sides return to continental action in midweek. Napoli travel to Real Madrid in the Champions League, while Atalanta host Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League.

Next up for Atalanta in Serie A is a trip to Torino while Mazzarri will face table-topping Internazionale in the league next weekend.

Mazzarri hopes Victor Osimhen returns to his best as soon possible having inspired the win over Atalanta following his return from injury. He has kind words for the talismanic striker. 

“I didn’t need to be the Napoli coach to know that Osimhen is an excellent striker, I had watched him play!

“Fortunately he is back, I hope he gets his form back as soon as possible,” he said.

Speaking on his first win following his return to the Napoli's dugout, Mazzarri told DAZN.

“Winning at this ground, against this team was not easy, and it won’t be easy for anyone else,” 

“What I said in my first press conference was true, this is a team that dominated last season, played some of the best football in Europe and with players who were not used to being in this position. So there was obviously going to be some sort of a drop-off after that.

“The first half we were almost perfect, but we lost our intensity too much after the restart and Atalanta naturally gave it their all. I had hoped for a better second half performance than this.

“On top of that, all the opponents step up a level because they know that they are facing the Champions of Italy. It was always evident this was going to be a complicated campaign in those circumstances.

“I know a little something about tactics too and the players have done well to take on those lessons quickly. We worked on the defensive line, as I had seen in recent games that the defence sat too deep. We were tighter, more compact and I honestly didn't expect to see these concepts put into practice so quickly against a super team like Atalanta.

“The only reason I didn't use this system before was that my teams didn't really have the players suited to it. The players really paid attention in training and wanted to learn as much as possible."

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