By Breaking Down Each of His Goal Contributions So Far This Season
There’s an incredibly exciting group of young center forwards across European football progressively developing their game and rapidly growing in stature. The two obvious names are Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, who have rightly been mentioned alongside some of the world’s best for quite some time. After that is a rather extensive list — including Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak, Roma’s Tammy Abraham, and Lille’s Jonathan David, among others — who are now scoring goals consistently at the top tier of club level football. Very few young forwards, however, have been as impressive as Napoli’s Victor Osimhen in 2021/22.
From 2015 U-17 World Cup top scorer with champions Nigeria, to a disappointing and injury-ridden spell at Wolfsburg, a revival at Belgian side Charleroi, and an 18 goal single-season at Lille before an €80m move to Napoli in 2020/21 (making him the most expensive African player of all time); the 22-year-old’s rise to ascension has been rapid, even with some setbacks.
His first season in Naples was not without struggles, either. Injury issues and the aftereffects of COVID led to inconsistent form, as he scored just 10 goals in all competitions. This season, however, he and Napoli are flying. The club are joint-top of the table through 13 games while the Nigerian has scored 5 in Serie A and 4 in the Europa League already.
And it’s not just the volume of goals he’s producing that’s notable, but the variety in the way he scores and fashions these opportunities is too. So here is every goal contribution from Osimhen in 2021/22, broken down, to give an insight into the multifaceted skillset he possesses and why he’s primed to be one of the prominent center forwards in football in the very near future:
Involvement in build-up & clever penalty-area movement
There’s two aspects of Osimhen’s involvement in this goal that I really like, so I’ve decided to pinpoint both. He’s often influential in the actions preceding him actually scoring — either by pressing from the front (more on this later), dragging defenders out of position with his movement, or playing a role in the build-up, as we see here.
His lay-off is fairly simple, yet effective, and a frequent element of his game. Osimhen’s overall number of touches throughout matches isn’t huge, but his decision-making when he does receive the ball is usually calculated, and sharp. His presence on the edge of the area attracts defenders and the first-time pass helps the move progress quickly to his teammate in space. His movement, however, is the best part about this goal. The delay in his run is deliberate, creating the separation needed to make himself available and allowing him to run onto the pullback and finish from close-range.
The variation in his penalty-area movement has been apparent in many of his goals this season. The clip below displays not only his ability to generate speed quickly over short distances, but also his smart positioning when marked. Situating himself between two center backs — on the blindside of one, in front of the other — makes him very difficult to track and this, combined with his sheer pace, gets him on the receiving end of many crosses.
His late consolation goal vs Spartak Moscow in the Europa League is largely due to fairly poor defending, but it’s his run prior to the cross that’s important. He’s constantly gambling in the areas in front of goal, making sharp bursts towards the six-yard box or more subtle movements to escape his marker. This was ultimately rewarded, albeit delayed, but that initial action meant he was in space, unmarked, for the tap-in.
Persistent Pressing From the Front and Continued Movement
Osimhen’s work rate out of possession is integral to the way Napoli play and helps them consistently win the ball high up the pitch. The Nigerian has averaged 9.24 final third pressures p/90 in Serie A this season – which ranks 2nd in the league. This persistent press, combined with his speed and wiry strength, makes him a real nuisance when defenders are in possession. He competes, hassles, forces errors, and causes turnovers, yet also has the presence of mind to profit from such mistakes. We see that in the above goal: capitalizing on a misplaced pass, finding Insigne in space, then continuing his run to the defenders blindside, before bursting forward at the perfect moment to remain onside and latch onto the cross.
Relentless Dueler, Straight Line Speedster
His goal vs. Legia Warsaw in the Europa League emphasizes his relentless nature out of possession, battling (and succeeding) to win a loose ball before playing a give-and-go with Insigne. His straight line speed then becomes apparent; lengthy and rapid strides allows him to create separation in transition with ease. There’s also a very subtle delay in his run, once again showing off his crafty and thoughtful movement, to beat the offside trap before scoring from a very difficult angle.
Athletic Leap and Aerial Presence
Osimhen’s goal vs. Torino and his 2nd vs. Leicester fall under the same category, as they both emphasize his terrific aerial ability. It’s not just the power and placement of both headers, but the amount of time he hangs in the air is also striking. His leaps can begin early and linger: either freezing, outjumping, or outlasting defensive efforts to stop him. It’s actually an area of his skillset I believe he can use to his advantage more often, in all areas of the pitch — from bringing others into play to winning duels in the opposition penalty area. If he does, that combination of intelligent movement and leaping ability could result in an abundance of headed goals.
Ingenuity, Flair, and a Powerful Burst of Pace
The first thing you notice when watching this goal is Osimhen’s first touch. The neat flick over Vestegaard’s head is executed brilliantly, especially considering where he received the ball (at hip height) and how many bodies are in close proximity to him. It’s made even better by his instantaneous change in speed, leaving the Dane behind in just a couple strides. The nudge from behind doesn’t impair him, instead forcing a split-second readjustment as the Nigerian lofts the ball over Schmeichel’s head, despite being unbalanced. It’s a real moment of ingenuity that’s aided by his ability to build-up speed in rapid fashion.
Proactivity and Awareness
Whether or not Insigne’s lob would have gone in without Osimhen’s touch is a question we’ll never know the answer to, but it’s the center forward’s actions in the build-up to this goal that guarantees he’s there in the first place. Osimhen is constantly active, on-the-move, and looking to make himself available when Napoli are in possession. His run beyond Udinese’s line begins as soon as Marco Rui feeds the pass in behind, even though the ball isn’t intended for him. He’s then ahead of their backline, level with Insigne, and quickest to the ball on the goal line. Being in the right areas at the right time isn’t a coincidence, but a reward for his foresight — a common theme in Osimhen’s game.
Drawing Contact, Winning Penalties
I want to make clear that there is an important distinction between feigning contact vs. knowing how to draw contact, by either inviting a tackle before getting body between ball and man or quickly shifting the ball away from the defender’s reach at the opportune moment.
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Osimhen has proven to really effective at the latter in 2021/22, winning three penalties already so far this season, all in different ways: getting to the ball first in the area and drawing contact from behind, latching onto a pass beyond the backline and cutting across the last defender, and showing strength and skill to deceive his marker and prompt a late sliding challenge. His movement is unrelenting and his presence, especially in and around the final third, causes real issues and forces defensive mistakes.
A Ton of Qualities, But What Can Improve?
There is, of course, still a number of facets of Osimhen’s game that must improve for him to truly reach the elite level in his position. He’s yet to register an assist this season (although the below video does highlight some of the opportunities he’s fashioned for teammates). There’s still the feeling he can do more from a creative standpoint. He excels in the sharp, dynamic transitions from quick lay-off to forward run, but it doesn’t happen enough. His 30.91 touches p/90 ranks in just the 25th percentile among Serie A forwards. Osimhen can be an outlet in transition, a threat in the penalty area, an option in wide positions, or a strong hold-up player, so learning to involve himself more often and more effectively will add another important layer to his skillset.
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I’ve spoken in length about how dangerous his off-ball movement is, but moving with the ball is another area of his game that needs work. Osimhen will almost always win sprints (both with and without the ball) over long distances, but just 0.68 dribbles completed p/90 this season highlights his lack of confidence in more congested areas. His tendency to drift into wide spaces could result in more threatening attacking scenarios if he learns to carry the ball with greater assurance and composure.
What Does the Future Hold for Victor Osimhen?
Osimhen’s form thus far in 2021/22 is a much greater indication of his center forward capabilities than what we saw last season, and it still feels as though he can reach much higher levels. Building upon and continuing to add extra elements to what is already a highly impressive skillet will be key to his development. If this rich vein of form can be sustained for a longer period of time, some huge suitors will appear, probably as early as the summer of 2022. The next generation of center forwards may be truly taking off very soon, and there’s no doubt Osimhen will be at the forefront.