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Monday, October 2, 2023

Napoli remain as unstoppable as ever with 3-0 win over Rangers

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Napoli’s Kim Min-jae controls the ball during a UEFA Champions League Group A match against Rangers at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples, Italy on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
It says a lot about just how overwhelmingly good Napoli have been this season that a 3-0 win over Rangers in the Champions League on Wednesday could be seen as a slightly disappointing result.

Napoli did what Napoli do best against Rangers at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples — win. The Italian side remain one of only two undefeated teams in the Champions League, alongside Bayern Munich, and the highest-scoring club in the entire tournament, with 20 goals scored and only four conceded in five games so far.

The majority of the action came early. Giovanni Simeone scored a brace before half the stadium had found their seats, knocking in goals in the 11th and 16th minutes. Leo Skiri Ostigard, joining Kim Min-jae in the back line in the absence of Amir Rrahmani, added goal No. 3 in the 80th minute.

But for one of the best teams in Europe this season, the hour-long gap between Simeone’s second goal and Ostigard’s header is a bit of a surprise.

It’s nitpicking, perhaps, to claim a 3-0 win as a disappointing result, but with the Partenopei look like they could just as happily romp to a 10-0 win as settle for three.

Rangers put on a dismal performance, but still managed to hold the home side to three goals. Remarkably, that sees Wednesday’s game tie for the lowest-scoring Napoli fixture in the Champions League this season, alongside the other time they beat Rangers 3-0 a few weeks ago.

Against Ajax, Napoli managed to score 10 goals over both legs, while they’re up 4-1 on Liverpool with one leg still to go next week.

In Luciano Spalletti’s defense — not that a man who ought to already be at the top of every single shortlist in Europe for manager of the season needs any defense — this wasn’t even his A team. Ostigard scored his goal on his debut, and Hirving Lozano, Victor Osimhen and, crucially, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia were all on the bench.

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti gives instructions during a Champions League Group A match between Napoli and Rangers at Diego Armando Maradona stadium in Naples, Italy on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
Kim was still there, 15 games into the season — all undefeated — and now looking like as crucial a part of the starting lineup as captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo, but six other changes allowed some key players to rest. It made little difference, however, as Napoli controlled 63 percent of the ball and got six of their eight attempts on target.

One sloppy moment from Kim saw the Korean defender receive a yellow card in the 88th minute for a clumsy foul on John Lundstram, giving up a free kick on the edge of the box.

With Napoli already qualified for the Champions League knockout stage, the win on Wednesday is worth little more than bragging rights and another notch on the 11-game winning streak.

The Partenopei will look to take that run to 12 games this weekend as they return to Serie A to take on Sassuolo Calcio on Saturday, before facing Liverpool in their final Group A game on Tuesday next week.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]