After having sold Gonzalo Higuain to rivals Juventus and lost replacement Arkadiusz Milik to injury by the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign, Napoli had a problem. Coach Maurizio Sarri experimented with Manolo Gabbiadini up front but that, as expected, turned into a disaster. The tactician eventually decided to deploy winger Dries Mertens as an out-and-out striker with Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne supporting him in a front three.
That decision proved to be a stroke of genius by the boss as Mertens flourished, scoring a hat-trick versus Bologna in December of that season and four goals in a thrilling 5-3 win over Torino in the very next match. The best of his four goals was a sensational lofted chip, voted Serie A Tim goal of the season for that year and was incredibly similar to the goal scored versus Panama in the World Cup on Monday.
Serie A Tim & Panini has voted Mertens's goal against Torino the 'Goal of the season'. 💙👌🏻 pic.twitter.com/G0y4661qDv
— Everything Napoli (@NaplesAndNapoli) June 18, 2017
Mertens’ international boss Roberto Martinez, of course, has the luxury of having striker Romelu Lukaku at his disposal, meaning that the 31-year-old forward relinquishes his role as the main man in the forward line. Yet – playing just off the Manchester United star – 5’7” Mertens proved that he can be just as prolific when placed as a number 10.
46 league goals in two seasons for the Partenopei is a record that speaks for itself, and it is, therefore, no wonder that Chelsea have found themselves linked with the star man, especially with the predicted arrival of Sarri at Stamford Bridge. Reports in Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport suggest that Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis plans to offer Mertens a new contract upon his return from the World Cup and will not be willing to part with the player for less than a fee of around £44 million.
“Sarri is a world class Coach and he’ll prove it,” revealed the Belgian to Sky Italia in a recent interview. “All those he trained have made an important step forward in terms of quality and I am convinced he’ll find a great team where he can prove just how good he is.”
“In all honesty, I want to try winning in Italy,” Mertens continued in response to the question of joining Sarri in the Premier League during the same interview. “I am very happy at Napoli!”
With Carlo Ancelotti now on board, staying on for another year may be an attractive proposition for the forward. However, a look at the current Chelsea lineup could easily see Mertens playing off Olivier Giroud as demonstrated with the aforementioned international partnership with Lukaku with compatriot Eden Hazard completing the front three should he make the move. His varying roles for club and country show what an adaptable talent the forward is, and could find a place in almost any forward line.
Everything regarding next season is still up in the air for Chelsea, yet their supporters can be content with continuing to keep an eye on forward Dries Mertens’ performances for Belgium, hoping that he can be reunited with Maurizio Sarri for the 2018/19 Premier League campaign.
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