Carlo Ancelotti rang in the changes yet again this season for Napoli but it didn’t deter them in the slightest as they cruised to a 5-1 win over Empoli at the Stadio San Paolo, spearheaded by a Dries Mertens hat-trick.
During Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Roma, the Partenopei boss fielded his 13th different XI in 13 different games this season and extended that streak to 14 against the Tuscans with an eye (or should it be eyebrow) on the Champions League game ahead. Napoli host PSG on Tuesday, with the Champions League betting markets showing the French table-toppers as slight favourites.
Orestis Karnezis, Kevin Malcuit, Nikola Maksimovic, Marko Rog, Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski were among the names drafted in for the victory, thanks to goals from Lorenzo Insigne, a historic hat-trick from Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik.
It took just nine minutes for the opener to arrive when Insigne grabbed his fifth goal in six Serie A appearances against Empoli, although in truth it was a strike that was all about Kalidou Koulibaly.
He showed why Ancelotti wanted to keep him in the side by winning the ball with an emphatic tackle and surging down the left flank with intent before picking out Insigne inside the area to poke the ball home.
The Italian went close to a second with a low scuffed effort that Ivan Provedel beat away from danger but he was beaten seven minutes before the break when Insigne turned provider this time.
Empoli paid a dear price for backing off when only Insigne and Mertens threatened as the winger passed to the Belgian, who drifted forward unchallenged to curl a low effort into the corner and double his side’s lead before the interval.
However, that lead was halved on 58 minutes and it was no prizes for guessing who got it, given that of the 10 goals they have scored this season, 50% of them have came via Francesco Caputo, who netted number five for the campaign.
The one-goal margin lasted just five minutes though before Mertens overtook the iconic Careca in Napoli’s all-time league goalscorers list when Jose Callejon rolled the ball back to him on the edge of the area to curl magnificently into the far corner.
One minute before the end of time, Mertens opted to get in on the assist act himself as he unselfishly teed up substitute Milik to end his five week wait for a goal as he emphatically finished to make it four.
They weren’t done there either and with the final kick of the game, Mertens claimed the match ball when he rounded Provedel on the edge of the area and tapped his third into an empty net – with all three coming from outside the area.
THESE BOYS CAN PLAY
There are plenty of good things you can say about Maurizio Sarri and what he did and brought to Napoli but his over-reliance on his same core group of players was to the detriment of his overall squad and arguably cost them a Scudetto. Whatever the case, men like Maksimovic, Rog, Diawara and Zielinski are showing that they all have the quality to succeed in Campania and are deserving of regular chances.
€30M WELL SPENT
Last week, Ancelotti hailed midfielder Fabian Ruiz as one of the league’s most underrated players. He is not wrong. He does so much under the radar and does it so well. His positioning and use of the ball are exceptional and he is proving to be a fantastic find. In addition, Napoli are also unbeaten in the six games he has started this season with four wins and two draws.