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 quarter-final.
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.
Osimhen had not played for Napoli since the last international break before making a substitute’s appearance in Saturday’s goal-less draw with Hellas Verona.
That reduced Napoli’s imposing Serie A lead to 14 points.
The 24-year-old played only 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 and his 26th goal of the season in all competitions 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 1-0 defeat, which gave Milan a slender advantage to take into Tuesday’s showdown at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
“Osimhen has such a physical presence and speed, you can chuck the ball at him and he’ll hold on to it, use his head or unleash a change of pace,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said on Saturday.
“He has so many different options when he has the ball.”
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, Milan have slowly returned to the more swashbuckling style with which they won the Serie A title last season.
His superb stop in the dying seconds on Wednesday denied Giovanni di Lorenzo from giving Napoli, then down to 10 men following the harsh sending off of 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 No. 8.
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!”