If I were to ask you to name two players in Europe’s top five leagues, who have scored more than 10 goals and provided more than 10 assists in 2017, where would you look for an answer? Would you look in the high-scoring Premier League? Or would you think the answers ply their trade with La Liga’s giants? Must be in Juventus, PSG or Bayern – right? You would not expect that the players played in Serie A, especially not for Napoli and Inter.
But those are the clubs that own the two most prolific all-around attackers of this calendar year. Napoli’s Dries Mertens and Inter’s Ivan Perisic are the players. Of these two as well, Dries Mertens seems to be in the form of his life. He has scored 23 in 24 appearances in 2017, along with 10 assists. In comparison, Perisic’s incredible 10 goals and 10 assists pale a bit.
Mertens has scored four goals in his last two Serie A games within just four days. He scored a hattrick against Benevento and then scored a masterpiece against Lazio on Wednesday night. His chipped effort from an impossible angle and distance – it was closer to the touchline than Lazio’s box – left his manager and fans drooling for more.
Since his move to Napoli from PSV Eindhoven in 2013, the Belgian had not been able to find a starting spot in the starting eleven. But in last October’s international break, Napoli’s first-choice striker Arek Malik injured his knee, opening the way for Maurizio Sarri to play Mertens in a forward position. Since then he has not looked back. In these twelve months (almost), he has amassed stats that can leave the best in the world behind. Let us take a look at some.
Mertens Scores Goals – A Lot of Them
Mertens can score goals. He had proved as much when he scored eleven for Napoli in the 2015-16 season, without even being considered a starter in the league. But his goal scoring just exploded last season. In 28 starts and 7 substitute appearances last season in Serie A, he scored 28 goals, scoring at the rate of a goal per 91 minutes. If that was not enough, he has started this season a bit above where he left off the last – scoring 6 goals in 5 Serie A starts, scoring a goal every 63 minutes. Further, only four of these 34 goals have come as penalties – 30 open-play goals in Serie A is indeed mind-boggling.
His expected goals per 90 minutes is 0.95 – he has a 95% chance of scoring every game in Serie A this season. While most of his efforts are high-quality efforts, he has the capability of scoring low-probability stunners like the one he scored against Lazio on Wednesday.
Not Only Does Mertens Score, He Creates Goals as Well
Of course, he has provided 10 assists in 2017, so one would assume that he can play as a creator as well. In the current season, he is averaging one key pass per game, but last season, he put in 1.6 key passes per game. From these key passes, emerge the assists – at a rate of 0.28 expected assists per 90 minutes last season and 0.13 xA per 90 minutes this season. Put together with his scoring potential; he is averaging a goal or assist every 54 minutes this season.
Mertens Scores a Lot of Game Winning Goals
His staggering stats read – 129 games, 170 goals with 103 wins, 14 draws and only 12 losses. In the games that he scores in, his points per game is 2.50. Further, 46 of his goals have won the match for his team. If he keeps up the scoring form, these stats are bound to improve this season.
Comparisons of in-form players with past greats is a common practice, especially in football. But, that goal against Lazio evoked the memories of a similar goal scored by Diego Maradona against the same opponent in 1984. While I am not sure if Mertens is as talented or as good as Maradona, but I do think that in the Belgian’s current form, Maradona would have welcomed such analogies.