Victor Osimhen and Mike Maignan will face off for a place in the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday when AC Milan travel south to Naples for the decisive second leg of the all-Italian quarterfinal.
Nigerian striking sensation Osimhen and France’s new first-choice goalkeeper Maignan arrived at two of Italy’s most storied clubs via Ligue 1 outfit Lille, where they played together for a season before both eventually made their way south of the Alps.
Osimhen hadn’t played for Napoli since the last international break before making a substitute’s appearance in Saturday’s goalless draw with Verona which cut his side’s imposing Serie A lead to 14 points.
The 24-year-old only played the final 17 minutes of that frustrating stalemate, but the match came alive once he was on the pitch.
He caused havoc in the Verona defence and came close to snatching the points when he smashed a first-time rocket off the underside of the bar with eight minutes remaining.
Osimhen’s devastating efficiency in front of goal was sorely missed in last week’s single-goal defeat which gave Milan a slender advantage to take into Tuesday’s showdown at the Stadio Maradona.
“Osimhen has such a physical presence and speed you can chuck the ball at him, and he’ll hold onto it, use his head or unleash a change of pace. He has so many different options when he has the ball,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said on Saturday.
Napoli wasted a host of chances to get something from the game at a packed and soaking wet San Siro in which Maignan produced the sort of display which has made him a natural successor to Hugo Lloris as Les Bleus’ goalkeeper.
The 27-year-old’s return between the sticks in late February following five months out injured has given Milan more security at the back, with five clean sheets in their last nine matches in all competitions.
And knowing he is ready to pull off at times astonishing saves when gaps appear at the back has allowed Milan to slowly return to the more swashbuckling style with which they won their first Serie A title last season.
His superb stop in the dying seconds on Wednesday denied Giovanni Di Lorenzo from giving Napoli, at that point down to 10 men following the harsh sending off Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, what would have been a deserved draw.
Former Milan manager Fabio Capello said Maignan was Milan’s best player in the first leg and the seven-time European champions will need him in similar form on Tuesday if they are to have a chance of winning number eight.
Maignan and Osimhen only played together for one season at Lille — the 2019-20 campaign — but it was enough to leave an impression on Serie A’s top scorer.
Asked while still at Lille whether it was easy to score penalties against Maignan, Osimhen said: “No! Nearly everyone misses against him. He’s too good!”
Luckily for Napoli, it is Osimhen’s partner in goalscoring crime Khvicha Kvaratskhelia who takes spot-kicks.
While 25-goal Osimhen will be back in Naples, Spalletti will have to do without Anguissa and South Korean defensive revelation Kim Min-jae, who is suspended.
What Napoli lose on the pitch they will gain off it however, as hardcore supporters agreed a truce in their feud with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis which had made the atmosphere at Napoli’s recent home matches toxic.
Supporters made a colossal racket on Saturday and will no doubt make the Stadio Maradona a seething cauldron for possibly the biggest match in Napoli’s history.