El Kessieco overshadows another Osimhen star turn for title-chasing Napoli
Barcelona striker Franck Kessie became the Clasico’s third African scorer as he bagged a dramatic late winner to secure victory against Real Madrid this weekend, fuelling hope that he can improve his fortunes in Spain.
In Italy, there were two more goals for Victor Osimhen as his magnificent campaign continues, while Sebastien Haller delivered his best performance yet as a Borussia Dortmund player as he bagged a double in their 6-1 rout of FC Koln.
While Barcelona’s signing of Kessie from AC Milan last summer can hardly be considered a flop — the midfielder was recruited on a free transfer after all — it’s safe to say that the deal had yet to work out. That was, until this weekend.
The 26-year-old was influential as Milan won Serie A last season, but he has struggled for both gametime and form since arriving in Catalonia. Gone were the swashbuckling performances in the Italian top flight last term, with Kessie increasingly struggling for gametime and looking timorous when he did play.
Squeezed out by the competition — particularly with Frenkie de Jong not moving to Manchester United — he’s started only four league games this term, and had, in moments, appeared primed for a January exit. The likes of Napoli and Chelsea had both been mooted as potential destinations.
Little has changed in the intervening months, but that hardly matters after Sunday’s Clasico, where Kessie’s 91st-minute winner has written the Ivorian into Barca folklore.
He becomes only the third African player to score in the Clasico, following in the footsteps of Samuel Eto’o and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored twice as Barcelona smashed Real Madrid 4-0 a year ago.
Introduced as a 77th-minute substitute for Sergi Roberto – one of the players Kessie has found it hard to dislodge – the Ivorian met Alejandro Balde’s late cross with the finish of a seasoned striker to prompt raucous celebrations from teammates and supporters alike.
His winner – coming in 91 minutes and two seconds – was the latest Barca winner in a Clasico since Lionel Messi in 2017.
It was also a weekend to remember for Kessie’s international colleague Sebastien Haller, who delivered his best performance for Borussia Dortmund since signing from Ajax in July.
The Ivorian has been made to wait to make his impact for BVB, with the 28-year-old spending the first half of the season recovering from testicular cancer.
Now, he’s appearing to be firing on all cylinders, ending an eight-game goal drought with a double as Koln were smashed 6-1.
The outstanding Raphael Guerreiro, who gave Dortmund the lead, turned provider for Haller in the 17th minute when he capped off a fine team goal, and the striker then added the hosts’ fifth in the 69th minute from close range.
The ex-West Ham United man now faces another landmark as he prepares for his return to international football. Named by Jean-Louis Gasset in the Ivory Coast squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-header against Comoros, Haller has the opportunity to add to his four goals in 15 Elephants outings to date.
As each week passes, two things feel inevitable: that Napoli will take a step closer to the Scudetto, and that Victor Osimhen will break some new record or other.
In midweek, his double in the 3-0 Champions League victory over Eintracht Frankfurt meant that he became the first ever Napoli player to have scored in both legs of a European Cup knockout tie, with Osimhen also having scored in the 2-0 away triumph in the first leg.
In the club’s history before last week, only Ezequiel Lavezzi (in 2012) had scored twice in a UCL knockout fixture.
He scored another double on Sunday as Torino were thumped 4-0 to extend the Partenopei’s latest winning streak to three matches — with an aggregate score of 9-0.
The 24-year-old’s double takes his tally for the season up to 21 goals in 23 league outings, as he becomes the fourth Napoli player of the Aurelio De Laurentiis era — since the film producer bought the club in 2004 to surpass the 20-goal mark.
Osimhen is in good company alongside Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens, although none of that trio – of course – ever won the Serie A as Osimhen appears primed to do. Nor did any of them ever score a brace of headers in a single game, with the Nigerian becoming the first Serie A player since World Cup winner Alberto Gilardino 13 seasons ago.
It will be fascinating to see whether Nigeria‘s Super Eagles can ensure Osimhen brings his outstanding form to the AFCON qualifiers this week… and whether Guinea-Bissau can find a way to silence him.
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