Khvicha Kvaratskhelia helped put Napoli’s Serie A title defence back on track with a brace in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Verona which moved the champions four points behind leaders AC Milan.
Wing wizard Kvaratskhelia netted in each half after Matteo Politano’s 27th-minute opener as Napoli made light of the absence of injured star striker Victor Osimhen and moved closer to Milan who host Juventus on Sunday night.
Rudi Garcia’s side stay fifth after a difficult start to the season but are level on 17 points with Fiorentina and third-placed Juve after a commanding display at the Stadio Bentegodi.
Frenchman Garcia, who replaced Italy coach Luciano Spalletti in the summer, has been under fire but was backed publicly by owner Aurelio De Laurentiis on Thursday, and was encouraged by the chances created without Osimhem.
“We did what we needed to do today… It’s better not to have people out but I wasn’t worried,” said Garcia.
“We’ve still got great quality going forward, we scored three times and could have easily got more.”
Kvaratskhelia has struggled to recapture the form which made him one of the shining lights of last season’s title triumph but on Saturday he showed signs he might be getting back to his brilliant best.
The Georgia attacker worked well with Giacomo Raspadori who was selected up front ahead of Diego Simeone and set up Politano’s opener with an inviting cross.
“The coach picks his team based on the kind of match we have and what is best for the team,” said Raspadori to DAZN.
“We are doing everything we can to win games.”
Kvaratskhelia doubled Napoli’s lead two minutes before the break after being sent down the left flank by Politano and slamming in a low finish at Lorenzo Montipo’s near post.
And he netted the crucial third nine minutes after the break when he was left almost the entirety of Verona’s half of the field to race onto Politano’s looping pass.
Kvaratskhelia looked to have wasted the chance when he slowed down his charge but he easily skipped past Giangiacomo Magnani and rolled home his third league goal of the campaign.
That strike turned out to be very important as from nowhere Verona sprang into life and pulled one back on the hour mark when Darko Lazovic pounced on hesitant defending and roofed a finish past Alex Meret.
The hosts then pushed hard to get back into the game and forced Meret into a pair of smart saves, while Milan Djuric also sent a thumping header just wide eight minutes after Lazovic’s goal.
However Marco Baroni’s side couldn’t close the gap any further and stay 16th, four points above the relegation zone after their fifth defeat in nine games.
Later on Saturday Inter Milan are at Torino where a win would allow them to move above their local rivals Milan at the summit.
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