Real Madrid beware! Hamsik and Mertens have the talent to force Napoli upset

Mertens Bologna Napoli Serie A
Maurizio Sarri's side underlined their attacking brilliance with a stunning 7-1 demolition of Bologna


Earlier this week, Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri spoke in almost reverential tones as he discussed his side's opponents in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"Real Madrid are a team that can flip a game on its head in a few minutes," he gushed in an interview with Sky Sport Italia. Yet Sarri's side are just as capable of suddenly changing the entire complexion of a match. They proved as much again in Saturday's sensational 7-1 rout of Bologna at the Stadio Dall'Ara.

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An eventful encounter looked all over with seven minutes played after goals from Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne. However, at three separate points, Bologna thought, understandably, that they were at least on the verge of getting back into the game.

On each occasion, though, they were put firmly back in their place by the brilliance of Napoli’s attacking talent. Ultimately, some Bologna fans were heading for the exits with more than 20 minutes remaining.

Hamsik Bologna Napoli Serie A

Their desolation was understandable; their team had been toyed with. Marek Hamsik was tormentor-in-chief, the puppet-master pulling the strings on the left-hand side of the Napoli midfield.

The Slovakian will rightly earn plenty of plaudits for a wonderfully well-taken hat-trick - the first of his Serie A career - but the goals were merely one aspect an all-round midfield masterclass.

Hamsik embodies the idea of leading by example. He opened the scoring by precisely guiding Jose Callejon’s inviting cross past Antonio Mirante in the Bologna goal, made it 5-1 with an empathic finish after being put in on goal by Mertens and then capped a stellar showing with a powerful but precise strike from outside the area.

Perhaps even more crucially, with his side down to 10 men following the needless dismissal of Jose Callejon, Hamsik produced an exquisite pass from inside his own half that resulted in Adam Masina being sent off for a professional foul on Dries Mertens, who, for once, was outshone - but only just.

Mertens Bologna Napoli Serie A

Much has been made of the fact that summer signing Arkadiusz Milik will be fit to face Madrid this month but, at this point, it would be folly for Sarri to consider moving Mertens back to the wing just to accommodate the fit-again Polish No.9 given how brilliant Belgian has been at the centre of Napoli's attack. Mertens is now Serie A’s top scorer on 16 goals, with 13 of those having come in his last eight appearances. He is Europe’s form forward.

Certainly, there was an air of inevitability about the way in which he converted the free kick that had seen Masina dismissed and his remarkable confidence was there for all to see as he twice wrong-footed the hapless Mirante on his way to his third treble of the Serie A season.

Napoli do have their issues, particularly from a defensive perspective. In Bologna, it was again noticeable just how often they put one another under pressure at the back with misplaced or poorly weighted passes. Madrid will no doubt press high and hard at the Bernabeu on February 15.

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Furthermore, a cumbersome centre-half pairing of Raul Albiol and Nikola Maksimovic would hardly give Cristiano Ronaldo sleepless nights. Still, Kalidou Koulibaly was given the night off after his exploits with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations, and the hope will be that he is fully refreshed by the time Napoli board the plane to Madrid.

Sarri will have a difficult decision to make in front of the back four, though. Jorginho retains possession well but can be painfully pedestrian, while Amadou Diawara offers greater protection for the back four but is still only 19 and prone to risky passing.

Sarri's caution in relation to Napoli's meeting with Madrid is, therefore, somewhat understandable. "I think in the end they’ll have something more, but in a one-off game we can have our say," he mused. "Besides, one day I’ll be able to look back and say I played a Champions League match at the Bernabeu."

However, with Hamsik, Mertens and Co. in this form, he might also be able to say he won a match there too!