‘Dries Armando Mertens’: Napoli goal recalls Maradona feat

Lazio’s Stefan de Vrij, left, and Napoli's Dries Mertens vie for the ball during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Napoli, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME (AP) It was a goal that brought back memories of Diego Armando Maradona.

Dries Mertens’ improvised long-distance lob in the second half of Napoli’s 4-1 comeback win at Lazio was instantly compared to a similar effort by Maradona 32 years earlier.

Chasing a long pass from Marek Hamsik, Mertens circled back around after goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha pushed the ball outside the area then used one touch to launch the ball over the backpedaling Strakosha and into the far side of the net.

Maradona also scored with a creative lob shot against Lazio in 1985, sparking fans on social media to combine images of the two players and label the new creation, “Dries Armando Mertens.”

”I don’t want to disturb Maradona, because when you go there you’re talking about really historical memories,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. ”But Dries is showing that he’s an extraordinary player, an animal hungry for goals.”

Mertens has scored six goals in five Serie A matches this season and 23 in 24 Italian league games in 2017.

Last season, Mertens’ 28 goals were only one fewer than league-leader Edin Dzeko.

The Belgium international has flourished since being thrust into a ”false 9” position following an injury to Arkadiusz Milik early last season.

”I’m just sorry that he discovered these attacking attributes so late,” Sarri said. ”Because he could have had an even greater career.”

Perhaps that’s why the 30-year-old Mertens celebrates each goal with the enthusiasm of a teenager.

His latest celebration involved acting as if he were downing a drink, with his fingers around an imaginary handle.

”I tried it out with some friends,” Mertens explained. ”I like doing these little things after I score. And with the way Sarri likes to play everyone scores a lot of goals.”

In fact, through five matches Napoli leads Serie A with 19 goals scored, five more than second-place Juventus.

With a perfect five wins, Napoli also leads the standings over Juventus on goal difference as it chases its first title since Maradona led the club to its only two championships in 1987 and 1990.

”Five matches are not many,” the pragmatic Sarri said. ”It’s such a brief period that it doesn’t have any significance. We’ve made fewer errors compared to last season but the real challenge is maintaining this focus for 10 months.”

Napoli has also showed better physical condition than a year ago, as evidenced against Lazio on Wednesday, when a three-goal outburst in the space of five minutes early in the second half overturned an early deficit.

It was the third time Napoli relied on a second-half burst this season, having also scored three goals after the break in a 3-1 win over Atalanta and again in a 3-0 victory over Bologna.

Up next for Napoli is a visit to promoted Spal on Saturday.

Having also won both legs of a Champions League playoff over Nice, the only negative result for Napoli this season was a loss at Shakhtar Donetsk in its group opener.

”Having a healthy fear of the opponents helps keep up the concentration,” Sarri said. ”And when this squad takes over control of the play it brings out the best in itself and it has a lot of fun.”

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