Juve’s new boys take Old Lady into top 4, Napoli on Inter’s tail

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Juventus winter signings Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria enjoyed dream debuts Sunday as both scored in a 2-0 win over Verona to help their new team break into Serie A top four.

Second-placed Napoli, in the meantime, was hot on leader Inter Milan’s heels after seeing off relegation-threatened Venezia.

The Juventus duo made sure that Juve took advantage of Atalanta falling to a shock 2-1 home defeat to lowly Cagliari by beating spirited Verona in Turin to take its place in the Champions League spots for the first time this season.

Serbia forward Vlahovic took just 12 minutes at a foggy Allianz Stadium to show why Juve shelled out an initial 70 million euros ($80.2 million) to snatch him from Fiorentina, racing onto Paulo Dybala’s chipped through ball before sending a delicate lofted finish over Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo.

Zakaria, who arrived for 4.5 million euros from Borussia Moenchengladbach on transfer deadline day, sealed the points in the 61st minute when he was sent clean through on goal by Alvaro Morata and lashed home a precise finish which put Juve two points ahead of fifth-placed Atalanta.

“It’s important to score goals but I want to improve in every aspect of the game, general play, passing, mentality, everything that can help the team,” Vlahovic told DAZN.

Juve has played a game more than Atalanta and travels to Bergamo next weekend to face a team that was blasted by coach Gian Piero Gasperini as “not good enough” following its loss to Cagliari.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri poured cold water on Vlahovic’s suggestion that Juve was aiming for the league title, even though only eight points separate his side from Inter.

“The Scudetto is between Inter, Milan and Napoli, we are out of it right now. It’s still wide open for the Champions League and we have to take it one step at a time,” he said.

Vlahovic’s 18th league strike of the season puts him level with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile in the hunt for Italy’s “Capocannoniere” scoring award.

The 22-year-old had a great chance to go it alone at the top shortly before halftime after superb interplay between Dybala and Morata led to the latter whipping over a perfect cross to his new strike partner.

However, Vlahovic could only glance wide, leaving the door open for Verona – missing key players Giovanni Simeone and Gianluca Caprari – that was only closed once Zakaria struck.

Napoli's Victor Osimhen in action during a Serie A match against Venezia, Venice, Italy, Feb. 6, 2022.
Napoli’s Victor Osimhen in action during a Serie A match against Venezia, Venice, Italy, Feb. 6, 2022.

Napoli in title fight

Victor Osimhen put Napoli at the heart of the title race with a goal in his first start since November which helped his team to a 2-0 win.

Nigeria striker Osimhen had made two brief substitute appearances since fracturing bones in his face in a sickening head clash at Inter, and he rewarded coach Luciano Spalletti’s decision to pick him by leaping to head Napoli ahead just before the hour mark at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.

Andrea Petagna sealed the points in the 100th minute of a match extended due to a clash of heads between the referee and Venezia’s Tyronne Ebuehi, as well as that same player’s late red card for a dreadful foul on Dries Mertens.

Wearing a special face mask he described to DAZN as a “good look for me,” Osimhen’s sixth Serie A goal of the season – his first since mid-October – helped put Napoli just one point behind Inter following its derby defeat to Milan on Saturday.

Luciano Spalletti’s side has played a game more than Inter but they host the champions next weekend before traveling to Barcelona for the first leg of its Europa League play-off with the Catalan giants.

“We have a lot of objectives this season and the Scudetto is one of them, so step by step and with determination, I think we’ll get there,” Osimhen said.

Sampdoria took advantage by thumping Sassuolo 4-0 and going five points clear of Venezia, who dropped into the relegation zone following Cagliari’s win.

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