The first set of midweek fixtures in this Serie A season brings some fascinating encounters. Juventus host Fiorentina in a battle backed by history and fury between two sets of fans, but heading south to Rome, there is a far more layered contest.
Lazio hitman Ciro Immobile and Napoli’s False-Not-False 9 Dries Mertens have picked up right where they left off last year, scoring goals by the handful, carrying the bulk of attacking responsibilities and flirting with winning the Capocannoniere title.
As it stands, the Italian bomber has six goals to his name for the Aquile, most of which have single-handedly decided matches in favour of his side. Immobile’s sum is fit to sit atop the scoring charts by his lonesome self, except, Paulo Dybala’s been playing at a level unrivaled at the moment around Europe’s top five leagues. Regardless, the former Torino star looks to surpass his 23-goal tally from last year and return the Golden Boot back to its rightful place on his mantle.
While Dybala, Mauro Icardi, Edin Dzeko – even Fabio Quagliarella – set out to spoil his Immobile’s plans, ignoring the Belgian winger-turned-striker would most certainly be a mistake, especially this week.
Since sliding into his current central forward role under Maurizio Sarri in late-2016 during Arek Milik’s injury lay-off, Mertens has exceeded all expectations, scoring at will and equipping the flair fit to make Sarri Football tick.
Uncharacteristic for an individual who’s played most of his career in wide roles or as a playmaker further away from goal, the 30-year-old’s transition looked extremely easy last year, bagging a whopping 28 goals to finish second in the Capocannoniere race behind Roma’s Edin Dzeko (29).
Currently sitting on five goals in four matches for the Partenopei, who are in a deadlock with Juventus and Inter for first in the table, he is showing no signs of slowing down. The ex-PSV Eindhoven sparkplug’s demonstrations thus far have already proven to Sarri that deciding on who should be his first choice striker in his 4-3-3 requires no further contemplation.
What makes this battle even more intriguing is that Immobile is Napoli born and bred. His name, Ciro, is the most quintessentially Neapolitan. It’s no coincidence that the nickname teammates have given to Belgian Mertens shows how he has been adopted by the city. They call him Ciro.
Who will win out? Is it the Neapolitan who found his fortune elsewhere or the Belgian scugnizzo embraced by the locals? The classic centre-forward or the evolution of the role? Despite their differences, these are two strikers at the peak of their powers and a joy to watch.
While many will be tuning in to see if the Viola can cool off the red-hot Dybala in Turin, it’s fair to say the duel between Immobile and Mertens in the Capitale at the heart of two powerful attacks could steal the show, and prove the race for top scoring honours this year will have plenty of competition.