It has been a breathless start to the season with one the greatest results in recent history in Europe, two pazzo games to begin with and a nice victory against Sampdoria to leave us with a warm, Ancelotti-inspired glow after four potentially tricky fixtures. Amid the madness, there was an important lesson to be learnt about the balance of the squad – Dries Mertens should be our starting striker. Over the next few paragraphs, I’d like to bring in statistics, as well as my own fanboy enthusiasm, to explain why it is a no brainer for our Belgan Superstar to be our #9 this year.
- He’s One of the Best Goalscorers in the League
We all remember fondly Dries’ goalscoring explosion back in 2016/17 when, after a certain porcine South American striker decided to leave us to earn money, join the dark side and support the Turin fast food industry, Mertens banged in 28 goals for Sarri’s team. This was not a one-off and he’s continued to be one of the best scorers in the league ever since. I did some digging and since the 2016/17 season he’s the league’s second highest scorer:-
Serie A Top Scorers since 2016/17
- Ciro Immobile (67 Goals)
- Dries Mertens (65 Goals)
- Mauro Icardi (64 Goals)
It’s noticeable who Dries is immediately above in this table and Icardi’s decision to not come to Naples is fine by me – we have a hero of the club with an equally impressive goal scoring record that is even more motivated than usual to score goals for us. Talking of which:-
- He’s Within Touching Distance of the All-Time Goal Scoring Record.
Dries needs 9 goals to get ahead of Marek Hamsik’s record of 121 goals for the club. Some players are not fussed by such statistics but it was very interesting to see how affected Mertens was by over taking Maradona’s league tally for the club last season. A brief view of his social media accounts show how integrated into the city he is as well as his love for Napoli. The opportunity to get to the top of the goalscoring tree and stay there is one he will not want to pass up. Put him up front and he might sniff out those goals by the end of the year.
All Time Napoli Goalscorers (All Competitions)
Marek Hamsik (121 goals)
Diego Maradona (115 goals)
Dries Mertens (113 goals)
- He’s the Most Effective All Round Forward in the League.
Being a team’s #9 involves scoring lots of goals, which Dries has done for Napoli for years but there’s more to a modern day striker than just this. Mertens, again, performs incredibly well when more all round forward statistics are considered. If goals and assists are considered, Dries Mertens is the highest performing player in the league since 2016/17.
Goals and Assists in Serie A Since 2016/17
- Dries Mertens 91 (65 G, 26 A)
- Ciro Immobile 86 (67 G, 19 A)
- Mauro Icardi 77 (64 G, 13 A)
To place Dries’ contribution in more context – Papu Gomez has 60 G+A, Andrea Belotti 66 and Lorenzo Insigne 63. Dries is far ahead of everyone aside from Ciro Immobile – the fact that Mertens has tactical flexibility to play across the front line (some of his goals came from #10 last season) is a huge asset and is reflected in his wider share of goals and assists than his nearest competitors.
Final Thoughts – What to do with Milik?
As Marco said on the most recent Far From Vesuvius pod, something fishy is going on with Milik. His injury, underplayed pre-season, has kept him out of the squad for at least the first 5 games of the season. To be blunt, Arek hasn’t been missed with Dries continuing his fine form from last season, a purple patch which coincided with Milik trailing off. Dries is already leading the line with our new signings with green shoots of a potential lethal strike force with Lozano appearing as well as a decent link up with Llorente (he came off the bench to setup Dries’ second against Samp). Add to this six years of forward line chemistry with Insigne and Callejon and one can see why Napoli have wowed the league with three superb, Milik-less, attacking performances to begin the season.
So Milik’s agent allegedly asking for a huge pay rise comes, potentially at the worst time – even if Mertens is not getting any younger, do we need to break the bank, wage-wise for the Pole when Dries seems to be linking up so well with our forward line?
Either way, I believe Dries to be the most effective forward in one of the best leagues in the world – not only should we be proud to have him with us, we should bang the drum to celebrate his incredible talents and commitment.