Monday March 6 2017
Mertens can maul Real Madrid

With the incredible influence of Dries Mertens at Napoli, Richard Hall notes he has to deliver against Real Madrid.

Before discussing Maurizio Sarri’s happy accident, it must be noted that Napoli are certainly not a one-man team and that Dries Mertens is not a natural centre-forward. If you hold that thought, the Partenopei’s current situation suddenly becomes tantalising and beautiful.

It means in short that Gonzalo Higuain has not been missed, as they have replaced him with a collective cohesion they could not have dreamed about whilst also tripping over a very unlikely successor. They face Madrid on Tuesday and will need to lean on their new discovery if they are to have any chance of success.

Losing the League’s Capocannoniere to Juventus may be a very Italian thing to happen, but it doesn’t make it easy. When the barrel-chested Argentinian departed for Turin, the mood in Naples was as volatile as Vesuvius. Maurizio Sarri was organised, defensive and had changed the Neapolitans from a cavalier side with a stench of Rafa Benitez, to a cohesive team that shipped few goals and would strike thanks to their new Argentinian idol. The treachery felt at ‘GON-ZA-LO’S’ departure ran deep and the summer transfer window was ultimately going to be a disappointment.

There should be nothing but praise heaped upon Arkadiusz Milik when discussing his Napoli career. His four goals in Serie A and his three in Europe have come in just 14 games, but his tenure has been hit by injury. The irony of the situation was not lost on the Neapolitans, as they had seemingly replaced Higuain with a Pole with superb potential, but now they had lost him too. Leonardo Pavoletti’s purchase in the window was never going to be third time lucky, but Sarri still was.

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Firstly, Sarri realised he didn’t even need a replacement. Marek Hamsik, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne had stepped up and contributed to Napoli’s 62 Serie A goals thus far. It cannot be stated any more about Sarri’s message that the collective was the most important thing, this seemingly has created a unity, character and ruthlessness born straight out of Naples slums. This in itself would surely be enough, as it was felt at first that these Musketeers were writing a new script based in Southern Italy. Even Alexandre Dumas would have thought twice about adding a hero to this story, yet Sarri did in this case.

Dries Mertens is 5’5” tall. The Belgian has been classed as a winger, an attacking midfielder and at best a Trequartista. Sarri, a man of Naples who has embraced being back in the city, throwing off his measured banker roots and bathing in the exuberance of the culture. Flair and gamble have immersed him and therefore Dries found himself playing as a False Nine and boy did it work.

Scoring 22 competitive goals so far is an incredible feat and whether it’s a happy accident or an ingenious decision is irrelevant. Napoli are 3-1 down to Real Madrid and face them on Tuesday at the San Paolo and if they want to have any hope they will have to rely on their diminuitive forward, who is in blistering form. Mertens’ movement, stillness the speed, touch and strike is like listening to Puccini, he is a player of Bergkamp-like efficiency, a man Wenger or any Barcelona Coach would look for, he plays football like a street urchin from Naples, yet he manages to suggest class (despite his canine celebrations).

Against Madrid, Napoli will need three things to help them move forward. Firstly, as this is a given, they will look to the heavens, ironically after doing this they will then have to make the San Paolo a scene from hell that Botticelli would be proud of.

Finally, in this inferno they will pray that Mertens emerges riding the fire and thunder from the Curva with the grace and finesse of a ballroom dancer. It’s a big ‘if’ for Napoli against Real Madrid, but the Belgian offers an incredible lifeline.

Have your say...
Anonymous and all Juve fans for that matter.

You guys with your Agnelli Family backing still have not won the CL.
Are you feeling strong that a way less SOUTHERN team played a game of their lives (which you would never admit) lost against the defending champs?

its not like Napoli is a rich club like arsenal that got thrashed by bayern.

Mertens has several good chances and he's not far from higuain's goal record this season. lol last year Juve fans were saying "napoli are higuain dependent"
on the 8th March, 2017 at 9:29pm
You Juventus fans always fail to realize the politics, and corruption amongst the sport and the country (north vs south rivalry)

Let me just say Napoli were in serie C on the brink of bankruptcy
and year after year they make it to the CL.
They played beautiful futbol and played a great game against the defending champs.
they should be admired not frowned upon.
tired of Juventino's trolling on Napoli articles.
on the 8th March, 2017 at 9:24pm
Napoli have been in the CL 7 years straight, and this year they won their group. They didn't get dominated by the world champions, actually for 55 minutes they took the game to the world champs and there are people here actually saying they don't belong in Europe? Please stop watching futbol.
on the 8th March, 2017 at 9:19pm

that own goal could have happened to any defender. Give me a break.
on the 8th March, 2017 at 9:15pm
Actually Mertens MAULED Napoli (Own Goal)

I'm waiting for them complaining for not giving them PK LOL
on the 7th March, 2017 at 11:41pm
If Mertens doesn't murder Madrid, the Mafia will!

Jokes aside, Napoli is weaker player for player but anyone who has watched Real since the turn of the year will know their defence is badly organised whereas Napoli have a good balance. Napoli, as one commentor said, must not go toe-to-toe, they must be tactical and pick their moments because concentration is not one of Real's strong points.
on the 7th March, 2017 at 7:19pm
In the first leg, there was a bit of anxiety for Napoli when on the ball. Misplaced passes and poor touches. You could see it was a mental thing. This time though, having been through that experience, and playing at home with the roar of the San Paolo behind them, I can see a more confident Napoli emerging. If they manage to score first, I think they can do it. Good luck Napoli!
on the 7th March, 2017 at 2:05pm
I think Napoli are more complete this year. They've evolved under Sarri. Defense has improved n Milik was doing grand at replacing Higuian until he got injured n they can play either him as a traditional no 9 or Mertens who interchanges with Insigne n Callejon well. Insigne is good in CL too n though I agree Mertens has to prove himself in Europe he has been fantastic this year. I think the fact Napoli have to go for it will help them n it will be a fantastic occasion at San Paolo. Forza Napoli
on the 7th March, 2017 at 8:42am
Honestly, the only Italian team that I've seen have the mentality to be in Europe is Juve. Napoli and Roma have shown they do not have the right mentality. Attitude and Mental fortitude are very important and these are weak links for these teams. Even if Napoli manage to go up 3, 2 goals do you really think they have the mental capacity to hold a lead? No. They collapse. Just bringing this Richard back to reality. This is what separates just another good team from the best.
on the 7th March, 2017 at 3:03am
@Richard Hall I think you are getting ahead of your self… Let me remind you that Mertens was there in the first leg and he didn’t even take a nibble out of Real much less maul them so let’s not exaggerate the impact of an individual who hasn’t proven him self in Europe just yet. Also As much as i would love to see Napoli beat Real they are 3:1 down and all Real has to do is sit back and hit them on the counter and Real is very good at that. No.. I think the best we can hope for is a Real blackout which would allow Napoli to score early and perhaps patiently wait for another mistake to score a second. I hope Sarri is not going to be naive in his approach and forgo the defensive responsibilities in order to go all out attack It would be a real mistake going toe to toe with them again.
on the 6th March, 2017 at 11:24pm
@JoeG I am not agreeing with Anonymous his comments are not worth commenting on but I do have slight correction for you Juventus has done more for Italian coefficient than any other Italian side over the past 9 years which includes Napoli.

(Hate to be a stickler but one shouldn't distort facts)
on the 6th March, 2017 at 11:11pm

What a bunch of garbage.. both Roma and Napoli are doing well and fully deserved being praised.
on the 6th March, 2017 at 8:14pm

Obviously anger has replaced logical thought in your head. Napoli is in the top 20 in European teams and has done more for Italy's coefficient over the past 9 years than any Italian team. It seems as if it's you that should be spending more time watching the game

Forza Napoli Sempre
on the 6th March, 2017 at 7:13pm
LOL yeah no. Napoli is done. They'll probably lose at home too. These garbage teams like Napoli and Roma need to be permanently banned from playing CL because they're embarrassments.
on the 6th March, 2017 at 6:21pm
This is why, Richard, You know/watch very little about Serie A....

Mertens 2 goals against Roma this weekend were his first against ANY top 5 team... He may score in spades against the Pescaras, Palermos, Bolognas of any league.... but this is Real Madrid Visiting... He'll as per usual bottle it!


on the 6th March, 2017 at 9:35am

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