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.
Bookmaker reviews, free bets, promo codes, bonuses and more are available from Kelbet.
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.