€9.5m ex-Liverpool target bags brace - A regret for the Reds?

Dries Mertens struck a brace as Napoli downed Sampdoria 2-0 at the San Paolo.

The Belgian’s heroics see Napoli pull within two points of second place AS Roma, taking advantage of the Giallorossi’s loss to leaders Juventus.

It’s been a mixed bag for the former Liverpool target – who joined the club from PSV Eindhoven for €9.5 million in June – in his maiden campaign in Italy.

Contending with Jose Callejon - brilliant since coming to Napoli from Real Madrid - and Lorenzo Insigne - a favourite son of the southern city - for a place in the first eleven has somewhat been a struggle for the 26-year-old.

With just seven starts to his name in Serie A he hasn’t lit the world alight so far, but Monday’s performance suggests that he’s primed to come good.

His two goals against the Blucerchiati doubled his tally for the entire term, whilst the Leuven native also completed four dribbles and created two chances for his team-mates.

The first strike came in the form of a pinpoint first-time hit in from the centre of the area, followed by a brilliant dipping free-kick that showcased Mertens’ previously unseen prowess from set-pieces.

More than anything playing centrally as a member of an attacking midfield trident – as opposed to his traditional place out wide – seems to be paying dividends for the charge of Rafael Benitez.

With Marek Hamsik still sidelined, the Spaniard chose Mertens of usual stand-in Goran Pandev, and the move worked a treat in view of his performance.

On one other occasion the Belgian was also deployed in this role – in mid-December’s 4-2 thumping of Inter – with the summer capture also rippling the net that evening.

Whether he’ll remain in this spot when the talismanic Hamsik returns is doubtful, but nonetheless Mertens is gleaning confidence and appears primed to fulfill his promise.

This type of talent is what led Liverpool to take a long look at him prior to this summer – the Reds were heavily linked with him for months – ultimately beat to the punch by former Anfield boss Benitez.

Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson have stepped up for Brendan Rodgers’ side this term, though quite often it seems the Reds could use another winger.

Will Liverpool come to regret not making a definitive move for Mertens in the end? Directly, maybe not, but if he’s truly on the path to realising full potential, some envious glares are bound to be cast from Anfield to the San Paolo.

At €9.5 million he would’ve been an astute buy for the Merseysiders, a great asset in the chase for top level European football.

Yet the time has passed and Liverpool saw their one-time Champions League-winning manager snap up the Belgian for himself.

Sure, there are others of Mertens’ ilk out there on the market, but one can’t help but think Liverpool would’ve done well to fight Napoli down to the wire for his services.

image: © Dries Mertens

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