By 90Min
April 28, 2019

Napoli may be a team very much in transition under Carlo Ancelotti this season, but Dries Mertens remains a jewel in the crown for the Partenopei.

Having appeared largely on the rise as they staged a close-run title challenge to Juventus last season under Maurizio Sarri, the Italian's departure to Chelsea last summer left a considerable void to fill at the Stadio San Paolo.

Much of what was so impressive about Napoli last season was their progressive style of play, and that was largely a product of Sarri's innovative attacking philosophy which was a revelation in Serie A.

However, not all of Napoli's quality was down to the coach - they had their fair share of star players, too. Dries Mertens was among the stars of the Italians' show last term, scoring 18 goals in 38 Serie A appearances, and his influence has continued this season.

The diminutive Belgian has scored 13 goals in 32 league outings this term, the latest of which not only epitomised his technical brilliance, but also moved Mertens level with club great Diego Maradona on 81 league goals for Napoli.

Paolo Bruno/GettyImages

An exquisite free-kick from the 31-year-old gave Ancelotti's side the lead in a game in which they had struggled to find the breakthrough against a Frosinone side which had succeeded in frustrating the visitors during the Serie A clash on Sunday.

It was a moment that not only reflected just how talented Mertens is and the magic that he is capable of producing, but also how important he has become for his club.

Sarri's departure last summer was a blow to Napoli. The Italian's departure robbed the club of the leader of what had become a well-oiled machine, and the loss was made even greater by the Chelsea boss' move to pluck Jorginho from the Stadio San Paolo. 

Not only had the Partenopei lost their mentor, but the heartbeat of their game had also been ripped away.

Leadership was required to guide Napoli through their transitional period, and the arrival of seasoned coach Carlo Ancelotti looked to have steadied the ship, before captain and club icon Marek Hamsik departed soon after for the riches of China.

In light of what has been a season overshadowed by potentially destabilising changes, Ancelotti has done well to steer his side securely into the runners-up spot behind Juventus once more.

ANDREAS SOLARO/GettyImages

The Italian has sought to impose his own methods on his new side, but has also benefited from the maintained consistency of some star players which have been key figures at the Stadio San Paolo in previous years.

Lorenzo Insigne has assumed the captain's armband following Hamsik's departure, and the Naples native has thrived with the responsibility of leading his hometown club. The Italian's performances continue to attract attention from a host of Europe's top sides.

Mertens has not always been as much of a regular in Ancelotti's starting XI as his fellow attacker, as the iconic coach has sought to integrate Arkadiusz Milik as the focal point of Napoli's frontline, but the Belgian continues to provide telling contributions for his side.

In the broader picture, Mertens' strike against Frosinone on Sunday meant that Mertens' 81 league goals not only stands him level with Maradona, but also makes the Belgian the fourth highest scorer of league goals in Napoli's history.

The 31-year-old is now only behind Attila Sallustro (106), Antonio Vojak (102) and the recently departed Marek Hamsik (100) in the club's all-time league scoring history.

ANDREAS SOLARO/GettyImages

Mertens' role at Napoli may not be as consistent as it once was, but his importance continues to be displayed, and his status as a club legend in Naples is now firmly secured.

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