Mertens returns to starring role for Napoli

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-GENOA-NAPOLI Napoli’s impressive 5-1 Serie A demolition of Empoli last weekend showed how they are returning to dominant form in Italy.

They now look set to pick up their annual pursuit of rivals Juventus, who are chasing an eight consecutive Serie A title, with Napoli trailing in third, by six points.

The biggest news for Carlo Ancelotti’s team also been the explosive nature with which they have beaten teams in recent weeks – with talisman Dries Mertens at the heart of it. Mertens, who was given an extended break by his manager following Belgium’s exploits at the World Cup, only started a league game on September 15th, as Ancelotti looked to ease him back into first team action.

As part of his reintegration back into the starting XI, Ancelotti also experimented with using the Belgian international in a deeper midfield role, as he looked to find a place for summer signing Simone Verdi in his attack.

However following the October international break, he has returned to his regular central role in a front three, scoring six goals in his last four games, including a hat trick against Empoli.

Mertens has been vital for Napoli in the past two seasons, and their were doubts over his ability to maintain his form following the departure of his mentor Maurizio Sarri in the summer.

It was Sarri that first looked to deploy him as a centre forward, with the licence to roam across the attack.

34 goals in 2017-18 and 21 in 2017-18, in all competitions for Napoli, dispelled any doubts that his diminutive frame would prevent him from playing as a central striker in Serie A and Champions League action.

Sarri and Ancelotti both looked to lighten the burden on Mertens, by bringing in another striker. Sarri in the example of a more ‘traditional No.9′ in Arkadiusz Milik and Ancelotti in Verdi.

However neither player has been able to match Mertens’ numbers, or his ability to make the key difference in big games, although Milik’s time in Italy has been disrupted by injury.

Mertens’ partnership with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon was the hallmark of Sarri’s side, with the trio proving to be one of the most efficient strike forces in Europe.

Ancelotti is set to call on them again this season, as he looks to overhaul Juventus, and achieve something that his predecessor could not manage at the club.

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