Napoli Goalscoring Glut Continues But Defensive Solidity Stands Out

Hirving Lozano
Napoli have been in red hot form at both ends of the pitch this season | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Throughout Napoli's impressive 4-1 win against Atalanta on Saturday, the club's record signing Victor Osimhen tore across the pitch with frightening pace and purpose, including in celebration after netting a debut goal on the cusp of half-time.

No sooner had the ball squirted past Atalanta's Marco Sportiello than Osimhen, carried by his gazelle-like gait, was charging towards his manager Gennaro Gattuso for a meaty bearhug (as if the former defensive midfielder could be associated with any other type of embrace).

Victor Osimhen, Gennaro Gattuso
Victor Osimhen (left) made a beeline for his manager Gennaro Gattuso after netting his debut goal for Napoli against Atalanta | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

It may have been Osimhen's first competitive goal in Napoli colours - hence the euphoric celebrations - but it was I Partenopei's fourth in a blistering first-half performance their famously prolific hosts would have been proud of.

Napoli flew out of the blocks, bombarding Atalanta with a flurry of dizzying runs and shots in the first 20 minutes. Eventually the pressure told. Hirving 'Chucky' Lozano netted a brace in the space of four minutes before Matteo Politano made it three with a wicked strike on the half-hour mark.

As the visitors stumbled around the pitch almost dazed by the onslaught, Napoli didn't let up, rattling off more efforts until a near perfect first half was capped off with a debut goal for their record signing Osimhen.

That strike from the elegant Nigeria international was Napoli's 12th of the season, and made Osimhen their seventh different scorer after just three games. However, these glowing top-line numbers paint a rather flattering picture.

After Napoli had concluded their seemingly crushing 6-0 win over Genoa in the second week of the season, Gattuso acknowledged the disproportionate nature of this scoreline, saying: "In my opinion, the result was a lie." Napoli's expected goal (xG) tally from that fixture - which was stood at 2.4 according to FBRef - would concur with Gattuso's assessment.

The Atalanta match produced a similar discrepancy. While Napoli scored four goals that afternoon, their xG total was only 1.7. In the embryonic stages of the season, Napoli have scored roughly six more goals than their xG would suggest is warranted.

Yet, while this finishing hot streak will inevitably cool, Napoli's defensive solidity against this Atalanta side was perhaps even more impressive and far from a fluke.

Cristian Romero, Kalidou Koulibaly
Napoli were quick to try and quell any developing Atalanta attacks, with captain for the day Kalidou Koulibaly in action | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Serie A's top scorers for the past two seasons were restricted to just five shots in the opening 45 minutes, all of which came from unpromising positions and hardly tested David Ospina.

Last season's Champions League quarter-finalists had their full range of attacking talent on display, with Josip Iličić making his first appearance of the campaign alongside Duván Zapata and the talismanic captain Alejandro 'Papu' Gomez. Yet, Napoli were able to quell each member of this devastating trio.

Zapata, starved of service throughout the opening 45 minutes, was hooked at the interval. An utterly anonymous Iličić fared even worse before his afternoon was mercifully ended after an hour.

As he desperately went in search of the ball, Gomez was forced deeper and deeper, at one time almost dispossessed at his own corner flag by Fabián Ruiz. The Argentine captain's last action - being forced off the pitch with the ball as Politano and Dries Mertens doubled up on him - was a reflection of his afternoon.

Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alejandro Gomez
Papu Gómez (right) struggled to exert his usual influence on proceedings against Napoli | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

After the game, Gattuso spoke glowingly of Napoli's 'great determination' and 'eagerness to get the ball back'. This is a trait Gli Azzurri have continued from last season, when no other side in Serie A attempted more pressures in the attacking third.

In the second half, 4-0 up and perhaps with their foot ever so slightly off the pedal, Napoli let Atalanta back into the contest, conceding a goal from the exciting Sam Lammers with 20 minutes to play after a rare collective lapse in concentration.

However, that was the first goal Napoli have conceded on the pitch this season, which - unlike their goalscoring - is much more in line with their underlying figures from the current and previous campaign. In 2019/20, Napoli could boast the best defensive record in the division based on xG conceded.

Yet, they actually let in a middling-to-poor 50 league goals. This discrepancy comes partly from a spate of impressive finishing from the opposition and rather less noteworthy goalkeeper displays. Napoli may have limited their opponents to the fewest shots in the top flight, but one in every three shots on target they faced beat their goalkeeper - the second worst save ratio in Serie A.

Alex Meret
Alex Meret endured a particularly poor shot-stopping campaign last season | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The once promising Alex Meret endured a particularly woeful shot-stopping campaign last term and has been replaced by the superior, but far from unflappable, Ospina.

Lammers may be the only player to actually beat the Colombian so far this season, but Napoli's record will read as four goals conceded after the weekend. This comes as the Neapolitans were awarded a 3-0 defeat and docked one point after failing to fulfil their fixture with Juventus on 4 October.

Not only did this ruling (technically) rob Napoli of their 100% record but it snatched away the chance for Gattuso's side to test themselves against truly elite opposition.

No one could deny them that opportunity on Saturday against Atalanta, and Napoli answered the questions surrounding their status as outside title contenders in emphatic - and defensively resolute - fashion.