Napoli hopes to leave off-the-field issues behind going into tricky matches against Lecce and Madrid

MILAN (AP) — After a testing few days off the field, Napoli is expecting a difficult week on it.

First up for the defending champions is Saturday’s trip to Lecce, which has had a surprisingly good start to the Serie A season. Napoli then hosts European heavyweight Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.

So there’s no time to dwell on some of the team’s off-the-field issues.

Star forward Victor Osimhen was left fuming this week when Napoli’s social media team posted a video on TikTok appearing to mock his penalty miss against Bologna at the weekend.

Napoli later deleted that video but Osimhen has also deleted almost all images of himself in a Napoli jersey from his own social media accounts.

Osimhen also reacted angrily toward coach Rudi Garcia when he was substituted shortly before the end of the Bologna match, which finished in a 0-0 draw. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had also been upset when he was taken off earlier. Both decisions were jeered by the Napoli fans.

But the tension seems to have eased after Napoli bounced back with a 4-1 victory over Udinese on Wednesday — with both Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia getting on the scoresheet to help the team end a three-match winless run in Serie A.

“We’ve reset the clock,” Garcia said after the victory. “We were all very frustrated at Bologna because we hadn’t won, then we cleared the air and everything’s back to normal in the sporting sense.

“Then there were also other awkward situations to manage, but no one wanted to do any harm: neither the person in charge of the TikTok account nor Victor on his social media channels. They’re instinctive reactions, they should be understood. He gives everything for this jersey and he is doing so this year too.”

It was always going to be tough to come in as a replacement for title-winning coach Luciano Spalletti but, with Napoli looking a shadow of the team that dominated Serie A last season, the fans are already starting to turn on Garcia.

“I’ve been doing this job for almost 30 years,” the French coach said. “At the beginning I said the work was 80% on the field and 20% everything else around it. But for a while now everything’s changed, the percentages have been reversed.

“But it’s all part of the job: if you don’t like it, you need to do a different profession. But don’t worry about me, I’ve got a bit of experience in these situations.”

Before the season started, Napoli would have looked at Saturday’s match at Lecce as a very winnable one. Lecce finished just five points above the relegation zone last season, while Napoli stormed to the Serie A title.

But Lecce has had an impressive start to the campaign and only had its first loss on Tuesday, at Juventus.

Napoli and Lecce go into the match at Stadio Via del Mare level on points, four behind early leaders Inter Milan and AC Milan.

Napoli will be further boosted by Kvaratskhelia having ended his goal drought. The Georgia winger was a revelation last season and was named Serie A player of the year but hadn’t scored since March before his goal against Udinese, when he also hit the woodwork twice.

“I’d missed scoring but in soccer and in sport moments like this happen,” the 22-year-old Kvaratskhelia said. “We can all be a bit nervous when you don’t score for six months, but I’m back and I’m happy.

“We need to continue like this. We all talked, we said that it was important to get back to winning and it was important to get back to playing like this. We need to do our best, we have good players, it doesn’t matter who scores.”


AP soccer:

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