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Osimhen strikes as Napoli take control of Frankfurt tie

Victor Osimhen scored again on Tuesday to help Napoli to a 2-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

The Nigeria forward scored his 10th goal in his last eight appearances across all competitions, opening the scoring in the 40th minute after a period of concerted pressure from the visitors.

Osimhen had just hit the post and team-mate Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had a penalty saved by Frankfurt captain Kevin Trapp as he faced deafening whistles from the home supporters.

Buoyed by Kvaratskhelia’s penalty miss, Frankfurt began pushing forward as the jubilant fans got louder and the game wilder.

Hirving Lozano capitalized on the extra space, racing down the right wing and crossing for Osimhen’s easy finish at the back post. They repeated the trick a minute later, but this time the goal was chalked out for offside.

Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side’s second goal against Eintracht Frankfurt

Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo scored the second goal in the 65th minute by finishing a wonderful team move with a sweeping, curled shot inside the far post after Kvaratskhelia back-heeled the ball into his path. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa had played the Georgian in with a weighted through ball.

Frankfurt’s hopes of mounting a comeback were dealt a major blow minutes before when star forward Randal Kolo Muani was sent off for catching Anguissa with his open sole as both went for the ball. It means the French forward will be suspended for the second leg in Naples.

Napoli, who lead Serie A by 15 points, seemed rattled early on with uncharacteristic mistakes before Osimhen settled the visitors’ nerves.

What’s next?

Frankfurt return to Bundesliga action on Saturday with a trip to fellow top-four chasers RB Leipzig; kick-off 2.30pm. The German side then travel to Wolfsburg on Sunday March 5; kick-off 4.30pm.

Napoli’s next game is in Serie A, with a trip to Empoli on Saturday; kick-off 5pm. The league leaders then host Champions League hopefuls Lazio on Friday March 3; kick-off 7.45pm.

Simeone helping Napoli relive days of Maradona

Giovanni Simeone is yet to start a Serie A game for Napoli this season, but it would be a mistake to think that his role in the club’s success is insignificant. He is the team’s finisher and a symbol for supporters aching to replicate the days of Diego Maradona.

Simeone scored the vital late winner against reigning champions AC Milan in September. That had people believing. He repeated the feat recently with his intervention in the 86th minute at home to Roma in the stadium now named after Maradona.

Simeone celebrates a goal against Roma at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona

Fifteen points clear at the top of the table, that first scudetto in 33 years feels close. Simeone’s presence is treasured, his link to Maradona – a former team-mate of his own father, Diego – only making his involvement in this campaign even more special.

“Being an Argentinian here is amazing,” he tells Sky Sports.

“Napoli is different. This club represents the history of Italy, the history of Diego Maradona. It is a pleasure for me to play here because every fan sees me as Argentinian and because of Maradona they want to speak to me. It is Maradona, Maradona, Maradona.

“It is not just the club, it is the whole city. Everybody is a fan here.

“Everybody speaks about football, everybody breathes football. Neapolitans are similar to Argentinians. We speak similarly. We have the same gestures. It feels like home. I am the same as them because football is a passion for me. I am in the right place.”

Simeone’s passion cannot be questioned. This game had brought his father fame and fortune before he was even born. His is not the story of a young man out to change his life by earning riches, it is glory and an ambition to be the best that is driving him on.

At 13, he had a Champions League tattoo on his arm. Earlier this season, aged 27, he finally had the chance to play in the competition – marking the occasion with a goal within three minutes of his introduction against Liverpool. “That was the best moment,” he says.

“The first game. The first goal. A dream come true.”

Simeone kisses his Champions League tattoo after scoring against Rangers

That was the first of his eight goals for Napoli this season, accomplished in 534 minutes of football. Victor Osimhen is the starting striker, the top scorer in Serie A. But even he cannot match the strike rate of the man so often making the difference from the bench. Look how he compares to the rest of Serie A this season…

A goal every 67 minutes in all competitions means Simeone is scoring more regularly than Erling Haaland. It requires a specific mentality and Simeone credits his meditation with helping him to be in the right mindset to make an impact every chance he gets.

“It is not easy to know that you do not start. When the coach tells me that I will be on the bench, it is difficult for me but I always prepare as if I am starting. I need to be ready for everything. Life is like this, you must be ready for the moments that you do have.

“I am ready for every minute I am given.

“The quality of the time is more important than the quantity.”

No player craves the thought of being known as a super-sub but some handle the situation better than others. Watch Simeone on the bench and there is no sulking, only a player itching to be involved and, more than that, ensuring that his time is used effectively.

“On the bench, I am always talking with my team-mates. With [Giacomo] Raspadori, I am saying: ‘Look, this is the moment where you need to do it like this.’ Or I am saying: ‘OK, when we get in, maybe we need to do it like that.’ We talk about it all the time.”

These are not empty words. Perhaps it is natural given his father is renowned as one of the game’s greatest managers, but Simeone is a true student of football. It was his meditation that led him to a moment of clarity that has taken his game to a new level.

“When I was meditating, I had this idea,” he explains.

“I decided that I needed to write, I needed to study. All goalkeepers have a coach. So I said to myself, if it is important enough for the goalkeepers to study the forwards then it must be important enough for the forwards to study the goalkeepers.

“I study the goalkeepers a lot now because it is important for forwards to know the behaviour of goalkeepers when they shoot. I need to know their movements. I study that a lot, really in depth, so that when I am on the pitch, I know when and where to shoot.

“It is all in my notebook. Before every game I write down the names of the players. I write out my visualisations for different scenarios. And I write about the goalkeeper. What is the best thing that I can do against that goalkeeper? Then I visualise that shot.”

How long has this been going on? “This is the second year that I have been doing that, writing it down before every match,” he adds. It sounds time-consuming. “Every spare moment that I have at home I am going on Wyscout and I am writing something new.”

It helps to explain the improvement in his game. He was the fourth highest scorer in Serie A last season, scoring 17 goals for Hellas Verona, the best return of his career. Though time on the pitch has been more limited in Naples, Simeone believes he is getting better.

“This is the best moment, the best of my career,” he said. “But this is not my ceiling. I can improve more. I have a long way to go. I know that if I keep training then I can grow.” The hope, of course, is that he can do so as the man who helped to bring the title back to Napoli.

“The group is the most important thing. Every player will be needed. If the starting forward does not score, the next one can. It is the same with the defence and the midfield. It is important to know that we can count on every player within the squad.

“To get the trophy, we need to be there in every match. My dad says something that I have always tried to remember – partido a partido – match to match. We need to be prepared for every match, ready for everything, because every three points counts.

“I feel the same with the Champions League. I feel we can play against any club, ready to play against anyone. Then, it is difficult to say if you will win or not. But we are ready. The Champions League is really important to me. I want to be there in June.”

And how will he feel if Napoli do something special?

“I do not know because I have not won anything,” he replies, smiling.

“When it is the time, maybe I can tell you.”

The only surprise is that he has not visualised it already.

Euro round-up: Dembele fires Barca to Atleti win

Barcelona went three points clear at the top of La Liga on Sunday with a 1-0 away win at Atletico Madrid, thanks to a first-half goal from Ousmane Dembele.

Rivals and second-placed Real Madrid suffered a 2-1 defeat at Villarreal on Saturday, giving Barca the chance to seize the advantage in the league after 16 rounds.

The visitors got the only goal of the game after 22 minutes when Dembele was played clear inside the box and sent the ball into the bottom right corner.

The hosts started to wake up at the end of the half, taking over possession and sending Barcelona into defensive mode.

Two minutes into stoppage time Barca’s Ferran Torres and Atletico’s Stefan Savic were sent off for violent conduct as the visitors held on for the narrow win.

Late Abraham goal deals blow to Milan’s title hope

Roma’s Tammy Abraham celebrates his late equaliser

A goal in stoppage time by Tammy Abraham helped AS Roma snatch a 2-2 draw at AC Milan on Sunday, as Stefano Pioli’s men’s hopes of catching up to Serie A leaders Napoli suffered a blow.

It was a soggy night at the San Siro, creating slippery conditions that affected the play.

Milan’s Pierre Kalulu scored first when he headed in from a corner on the half-hour mark.

Tommaso Pobega doubled the lead in the 77th minute when he was played into space in the box and smashed the ball into the lower right corner with one touch.

Roger Ibanez pulled one back for Roma three minutes before stoppage time when he headed in a corner, and Abraham completed the late comeback six minutes later when he managed to send in a rebound from inside the box.

Milan are now third in the Serie A table with 37 points after 17 games, equal with second-placed Juventus on points and seven behind Napoli.

Napoli bounce back to extend lead at top of table

Napoli’s Elmas celebrates after scoring against Sampdoria

Despite missing an early penalty, Napoli bounced back from their first league defeat of the season to beat 10-man Sampdoria 2-0.

In an emotional match at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Victor Osimhen opened the scoring in the 19th minute after Matteo Politano had seen his penalty saved.

Any chance Sampdoria had of getting back into the match diminished when Toms Rincon was sent off shortly before half-time and Napoli sealed the result with another penalty.

There were video tributes before the match to former Sampdoria players Gianluca Vialli and Sinisa Mihajlovic, both of whom died recently. There were also plenty of banners in the stands dedicated to them and chants throughout the match.

The Sampdoria players warmed up wearing special jerseys bearing Vialli’s name and the No 9 which he wore when he played for the team. Flowers were also laid by the side of the field by members of the Sampdoria staff and the Italy players from Napoli.

Vialli, who died on Friday, helped Sampdoria to their only Serie A title, three Italian Cups and the European Cup final during an eight-year stint.

Mihajlovic played and coached Sampdoria, and his three children stood on the side of the field holding up a team jersey with his name on the back during a minute’s silence.

Bayern top going into winter break | Napoli make it 11 straight Serie A wins

Bayern Munich won 2-0 at Schalke to make sure of top spot in the Bundesliga going into the World Cup break as they hunt a record-extending 11th straight league title.

The Bavarians, who fielded a starting line-up consisting entirely of World Cup-bound players, scored once in either half with Serge Gnabry and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, with Germany international Jamal Musiala delivering both assists.

Bayern’s sixth consecutive league win -and 10th across all competitions – lifted them to 34 points, six ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig, 2-1 winners at Werder Bremen. Freiburg and Union Berlin, both on 27, face each other on Sunday.

Bayern had the upper hand from the start but it was not until Musiala, who at 19 is the youngest Bayern player to reach 100 matches, combined well with Germany team-mate Ganbry for the lead in the 38th minute.

“Jamal has played an outstanding first half of the season and will hopefully play even better at the World Cup and the second half of the season,” coach Julian Naglesmann said of his attacking midfielder.

“He listens well and he wants to develop. He just has a lot of talent. He also has improved defensively,” he said.

The teenager, who also has nine league goals, delivered his sixth assist of the season for Cameroon forward Choupo-Moting, who had earlier come close with a glancing header, to tap in seven minutes after the restart and leave Schalke in last place following their eighth loss in the last nine matches.

The 33-year-old forward is himself in fine form going into the World Cup with 11 goals in all competitions, including six in the league.

The Bundesliga goes into a prolonged break following this weekend’s matches due to the start of the World Cup in Qatar next weekend and will resume on January 20.

Serie A leaders Napoli seal 11th successive win

Napoli’s Eljif Elmas scored their third in the 3-2 home win over Udinese

Napoli almost squandered the chance of setting a club record of 11 consecutive Serie A victories within a season when they let slip a three-goal advantage before securing a 3-2 home win over Udinese.

Victor Osimhen put the league leaders ahead after 15 minutes when he elegantly headed home a cross from Elif Elmas.

Piotr Zielinski doubled the lead in the 31st minute with a shot from the edge of the box after being played in by Hirving Lozano.

The hosts continued to press in the second half and Elmas was set free by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in the 58th minute to add the third.

Udinese reduced the deficit 11 minutes from time when Isaac Success chested the ball to Ilija Nestorovski who fired the ball into the net.

Lazar Samardzic pulled another goal back three minutes later and Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti cut a frustrated figure as his side held firm in the closing stages to secure the victory.

Napoli top Serie A with 41 points, 11 ahead of Lazio who play Juventus on Sunday before the World Cup break. Udinese are in eighth place.

Euro round-up: Mane suffers WC scare | Pique sent off in final game

Sadio Mane suffered an injury scare less than two weeks before the start of the World Cup after being forced off during Bayern Munich’s 6-1 demolition of Werder Bremen.

Mane limped off with a leg injury after just 20 minutes of the game, with only 13 days to go before Senegal’s opening match of the tournament against the Netherlands.

But champions Bayern put that blow behind them to thrash Werder and open up a four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.

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Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen

Bayern’s goalscoring began in the sixth minute when in-form Germany international Jamal Musiala showed outstanding composure to pick up the ball in the box, sidestep an opponent and slot home with his left foot.

The visitors struck against the run of play only four minutes later, with Anthony Jung wrongfooting goalkeeper Manuel Neuer with a low shot, but Bayern’s pressure was relentless and they went on to score three times in six dizzying minutes to kill off the game.

Gnabry curled in a superb shot in the 22nd minute before fellow Germany international Leon Goretzka added another four minutes later. Gnabry then tapped in his second goal of the evening in the 28th minute from a perfect Leroy Sane assist as Werder were unable to stop Bayern’s runs through the centre.

Gnabry then bagged his hat-trick in the 82nd minute after weaving past four Werder players before France youth international Mathys Tel made it half a dozen goals for Bayern with a solo effort two minutes later.

There was joy for Bayern earlier in the evening when rivals Borussia Dortmund suffered a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg, who stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches.

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Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund

The hosts shot out of the blocks, forcing a good save from Gregor Kobel in the third minute before Micky van de Ven nodded in at the far post from a corner three minutes later.

Wolfsburg, who had managed just one point against Dortmund in their last 14 league matches prior to Tuesday, sealed their first win over Dortmund in seven years with a Lukas Nmecha tap-in in stoppage time.

The results leaves Dortmund fourth in the Bundesliga – six points behind leaders Bayern – while Wolfsburg are eighth, one place below Werder Bremen.

Lukas Nmecha (centre) and Wolfburg team-mates celebrate his late goal

Barca fight back after Pique and Lewandowski reds

Barcelona fought back to win 2-1 at Osasuna despite Robert Lewandowski and Gerard Pique – in his final match before retirement – receiving red cards.

Second-half goals from Pedri and Raphinha rescued Xavi’s side after David Garcia had headed Osasuna into the lead from a corner in the sixth minute.

Lewandowski saw red following a second booking in the 31st minute, after which Pique – who was on the bench – was also dismissed after complaining to the referee at half-time.

Yet Pedri equalised from a rebound right after the break and Raphinha came off the bench to score Barca’s winner five minutes from time with a brilliant dipping header from outside the box that looped into the net.

The result means Barcelona go into the World Cup break top of La Liga, five points ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, who host second-bottom Cadiz on Thursday. Osasuna are sixth.

Napoli extend lead after Milan stumble

Hirving Lozano (second right) celebrates with team-mates after scoring Napoli’s first

Serie A leaders Napoli extended their winning streak to 10 games and their lead at the top of Serie A to eight points when they beat visitors Empoli 2-0 thanks to a goal and an assist from substitute Hirving Lozano.

The sides were locked at 0-0 at half-time despite the hosts dominating the first 45 minutes, while Empoli never came close to any real chances.

Napoli finally broke the deadlock when Lozano converted a penalty in the 70th minute after Razvan Marin tripped Victor Osimhen inside the box.

Empoli’s luck had clearly run out when Sebastiano Luperto was sent off after picking up a second yellow card for tripping Lozano in the 74th minute.

Lozano then crossed for Piotr Zielinski, who found the net with one touch in the 88th minute.

Meanwhile, second-placed AC Milan were held to a 0-0 draw at Cremonese as Stefano Pioli’s men wasted several clear-cut chances.

Junior Messias and co were unable to help Milan to a win

Brahim Diaz, Ante Rebic and Divock Origi all missed opportunities for the champions, while Cremonese could have snatched victory four minutes into stoppage time when Cristian Buonaiuto shot straight at Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Milan lie second in the standings, eight adrift of leaders Napoli, while Empoli are 14th and Cremonese are 18th, two points from safety.