Napoli recovered from their disappointing loss away at Inter with an emphatic 6-0 victory over Bologna, thanks in no part to Dries Mertens’ major contributions
Despite being nine points behind Juventus before kick-off, Napoli played with the same rhythm and tempo that they have at the Stadio San Paolo all season. Dries Mertens recorded an assist and a hat-trick as the Partenopei closed the gap to the champions, temporarily at least.
Napoli played with a 4-3-3 system with Manolo Gabbiadini up front and the duo of José Callejón and Dries Mertens on the wings. In midfield Marek Hamšík played just in front of Allan and Jorginho, while Napoli’s usual back five were present. Bologna played with the same 4-3-3 system but had four changes from the line-up that lost 1-0 at home to Torino on Saturday: Ibrahima Mbaye, Matteo Brighi, Robert Acquafresca and Camilo Zúñiga came in for Domenico Maietta, Franco Brienza, Luca Rizzo and Sergio Floccari.
The first half saw Manolo Gabbiadini put on a show as Napoli scored two goals in the opening 35 minutes to establish a comfortable lead. The Italian attacker, playing in place of the suspended Gonzalo Higuaín, linked up excellently with his wingers – José Callejón and Dries Mertens – along with the Partenopei’s workhorse in midfield, Marek Hamšík. Gabbiadini grabbed the opener after Mertens played an unbelievable ball in behind Bologna’s defence and the Italian hit it first time across Antonio Mirante. For the second, Callejón’s quick feet were too much for Kévin Constant as he gave away a penalty in the 34th minute. Gabbiadini then stepped up and coolly sent Mirante the wrong way, meaning that Napoli went into half-time 2-0 ahead and cruising.
If the first half was the Manolo Gabbiadini show, the second half was most certainly taken over by Dries Mertens. After getting the assist for Gabbiadini’s first, Mertens got a second half hat-trick to well and truly end any glimmer of hope that Bologna had of getting back into the game. Just shy of the hour mark, Mertens got his first after turning Mbaye inside out and hitting a left-footed shot under Mirante. His second came ten minutes from time as he linked up with substitute Omar El Kaddouri and, after a slip by Luca Rossettini, Mertens was through on goal and clinically beat the former Parma goalkeeper. Mertens grabbed his hat-trick two minutes from time with an unbelievable finish. 25 yards out from goal, Mertens shifted away from Constant onto his right foot and hit a bullet past Mirante. With the score at 5-0, substitute David López was then able to force a shot under Mirante after an audacious venture forward one minute after Mertens’ third.
After a defeat to Inter on Saturday that all but ended Napoli’s hopes of winning the Scudetto, Maurizio Sarri will be ecstatic with the way that his team bounced back. The absence of Higuaín was not felt as Gabbiadini performed excellently in the first half, and then Dries Mertens’ second half performance – in which he became only the third player to score a hat-trick in this season’s Serie A, along with Nikola Kalinić and Suso – will give Sarri a headache ahead of the weekend’s game at Roma. At the San Paolo, Napoli have now won 14 and drawn three, losing zero. For Roberto Donadoni, Bologna’s poor form, in which they haven’t won a game since February, will be a cause for concern. The manner in which the Rossoblu lost will leave Donadoni with nightmares, but being seven points clear of the bottom three should mean that Bologna have a safety cushion.
Up next for Napoli is a trip to Rome in the Derby del Sole. Ahead of Wednesday’s fixtures, Napoli sit six points behind 1st placed Juventus with the Old Lady looking more relentless with each passing week. Bologna, however, face Genoa at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara in a game that, with a win, should secure their safety. But with the club without a victory since Valentine’s Day, it could be a nervy few weeks for the Rossoblu.