ROME (AP) — For a team that lost its captain, all-time leading scorer and defensive stalwart in the offseason, Napoli filled the hole with skill.
With every game, it seems the Southern Club discovers a new weapon.
After midfielder Piotr Zielinski shone in the Champions League’s 4-1 win over Liverpool, reserve striker Giacomo Raspadori starred in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Spezia in Serie A. Scored his first goal for Napoli in the 89th minute.
“It is difficult to play against Liverpool three days after the night, especially in the afternoon in this heat. But despite all that, we did everything to get the result,” Napoli coach Luciano Spellati said.
“It shows character, patience and belief that sooner or later we will get a goal, but we can’t always be in these situations and it was very expensive last season.”
A last-gasp win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona moved Napoli unbeaten in the Italian league standings, a point ahead of Atalanta, which could regain the lead when it hosts motivated Cremona on Sunday.
Defending champions AC Milan, who later played at Sampdoria, could also move level on points with Napoli.
Napoli are chasing their first league title since Maradona led the club to just two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
The 22-year-old Raspadori, on loan from Sassuolo, started in place of the injured Victor Osimian and Spalletti dropped him despite substituting his other attacking players.
Speletti’s decision ended when Raspadori found himself in a position to send in a cross from Herring Lozano and fire inside the back post.
“These are all starting points for me,” Raspadori said. “I missed two chances but I managed to stay clear.”
That was just what Napoli had in mind when it agreed to the loan deal, which requires the club to buy Raspadori’s full rights at the end of the season for 30 million euros ($30 million).
What’s more, Raspadori became Napoli’s eighth different scorer in Serie A this season, tied for the most in the league with Inter Milan.
Georgia’s 21-year-old winger Khoicha Kvartsakhelia, who has already scored four goals and was named Serie A’s Player of the Month for August, showed his skills once again on the left when he dribbled past two defenders. Play in the first half.
A few minutes later, “Kvara” was at it again with some quick dribbling moves to beat his markers. This time his shot was a little more accurate but Spezia goalkeeper Bartholomew Dragowski blocked his effort against the near post.
Zielinski came on as a second-half substitute and made an immediate impact, curling a long-range shot that Poland team-mate Drogowski had to tip over the crossbar.
Spezia also threatened at times and centre-back Amir Rahmani had to clear a shot off the line amid confusion in the Napoli defence.
All in all, Napoli are doing well to make moves after former captain Lorenzo Insigne left for Toronto FC, record scorer Dries Mertens moved to Galatasaray and physical defender Kalidou Koulibaly joined Chelsea.
South Korean center back Kim Min-jae, Koulibaly’s replacement, was rested after he also made a big impression.
“There is a good atmosphere in the team. Everyone is very welcoming, which is important for a shy person like me to join a team like this,” Raspadori said.
Spalletti was sent off with his second yellow card amid the controversy after Raspadori’s goal, which also resulted in a red card for Spezia’s goalkeeper coach.
Next up for Napoli is a meeting with Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday. Speletti should then be suspended for next weekend’s match against Milan.