Napoli’s decision to reinvest less than half of the €94m they recouped for Gonzalo Higuain raised eyebrows, given the striker had accounted for almost 50 percent of their goal output in Serie A last season. More so was the profile of player they had targeted in Arkadiusz Milik, a player whose reputation rode on the back of a single campaign and had been criticised for lean spells.
Two games in, however, and the Partenopei may have been right all along. Right in also giving Dries Mertens a long-awaited chance to establish himself as the other M in M&M.
Indeed, it took just 53 minutes of the season for the partnership to bloom. Trailing 2-0 to newly-promoted Pescara on the opening matchday, Maurizio Sarri threw on Mertens and Milik early in the second half and was duly vindicated by the Belgian, who rescued a point for Napoli thanks to a three-minute brace, firstly cutting inside and bending a beautifully-placed finish past Albano Bizzarri, before showing the predatory instincts of a No 9 to sweep the ball home from point-blank range.
Then came Milik’s time to shine. Starting alongside Mertens for the visit of Milan, the former Ajax attacker knocked in a rebound to give Napoli an 18th-minute lead and followed up with a powerful header on the end of a corner as the Partenopei held on for a 4-2 victory.
And in the matches neither player scored, they were still influential. Milik’s confidence grew in spades against Pescara, from bringing others into play to blitzing past Delfino defenders and forcing Bizzarri into saves, while Il Mattino hailed Mertens as the “absolute star of the evening” against the Rossoneri.
Their exploits so far haven’t gone unnoticed, at least from the players themselves. Mertens was quick to praise his new strike partner as “a good player” after the game against Milan over commenting on his own two-goal performance, only to be trumped by Milik, who took to his personal Twitter account a day later and posted what all Napoli fans were thinking – a picture of himself and the winger as M&M’s looking rather pleased. More importantly, though, such actions emphasise a chemistry that will only become more reactive.
“The understanding between the two players is already very high. It seems Mertens and Milik have played in the same team for ages. Once upon a time, Higuain: the future in blue is M&M’s,” was Corriere dello Sport’s assessment, shared by Switzerland assistant and former Serie A midfielder Antonio Manicone. “Mertens and Milik understand each other a lot on the pitch and the results are coming off. I know Milik well, we met him with Poland in the [Euro 2016] second round and I must say that he made a good impression on me,” the ex-Inter man told Radio Crc.
It was just two months ago that Milik came in for criticism after he scored just one goal for Poland at Euro 2016 and suffered a drought at the turn of last year, which arguably cost Ajax the Eredivisie title for the second successive season.
Mertens too has also been targeted in the past for his perceived inconsistency and declining return. Although M&M aren’t quite Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani at present, their sudden rise to the fore has been backed by an air of cold-bloodedness that only the very best can vouch for.
Looking ahead, the future seems bright for the sugary-sweet duo, who are expected to continue leading Napoli’s attack alongside Jose Callejon. The Spaniard’s start to the season has also been hugely impressive, with two goals and an assist in 180 minutes of action, and if for any reason the trio tail off, Sarri also has the similarly-hungry Lorenzo Insigne and Manolo Gabbiadini in reserve as opposed to relying on just one player. Nevertheless, we may be about to coin yet another trident abbreviation at this rate. M&M’s? How about CMM...
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