Serie A: Mertens bags hat trick, Napoli close gap to Juventus

Ciro Fusco/ANSA via AP
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Napoli find themselves just three points back of Juventus, who are yet to play this weekend, after a 5-1 demolition of Empoli on Friday.

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Dries Mertens led the five-goal charge with a hat trick, taking his tally to seven league goals on the season. Mertens was the unrivaled star of Napoli’s failed title challenge last season, and still he managed only 18 goals over the entire season.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring in just the ninth minute, an expert finish tucked just inside the far post, followed by Mertens’ first of the game in the 38th. The Belgian drove through the heart of midfield before unleashing a stinging strike into the bottom corner from 22 yards out.

Empoli pulled a goal back through Francesco Caputo just before the hour mark, but Mertens quickly restored Napoli’s two-goal lead with his best effort of the day. Arriving late to the top of the penalty area, Jose Callejon’s cut-back ball found Mertens who applied a powerful, but precise, looping shot over the goalkeeper’s head and into the inside netting.

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Arkadiusz Milik made it 4-1 with a first-time finish in the 90th minute, and Mertens picked up the game ball two minutes later, when he rounded the goalkeeper nearly 30 yards from goal and rolled the ball into the empty net.

The 31-year-old is capable of this kind of performance anytime he takes the field for Napoli. Had he broken out in such a big way a bit earlier in his career — say, 24 or 25, instead of 28 or 29 — he would have undoubtedly found himself in the Premier League. Alas, he’s carved out a plenty brilliant career for himself near the top of Serie A, with the occasional deep run in the Champions League to showcase his talents to the wider world.

This weekend’s Serie A schedule

Saturday

Inter Milan vs. Genoa — 10 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Roma — 1 p.m. ET
Juventus vs. Cagliari — 3:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Lazio vs. SPAL — 6:30 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Parma vs. Frosinone — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Atalanta — 12 p.m. ET
Udinese vs. AC Milan — 2:30 p.m. ET