Napoli looking to Mertens against Real Madrid
ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 07, 2017 12:06 PM
Napoli's Dries Mertens, left, kicks the ball past Roma's Antonio Rudiger during a Serie A soccer match between Roma and Napoli, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Saturday, March 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
DANIELLA MATAR, Associated Press
Napoli forward Dries Mertens was back to his best over the weekend, scoring twice in the 2-1 victory over second-place Roma.
Then he got hurt.
And that could be bad news as Napoli prepares to face Real Madrid on Tuesday for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals. Defending champion Madrid won the first leg 3-1.
"He's OK. He just had a bit of cramp, but we will see," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. "I don't want to cause controversy, but the schedule certainly didn't help us."
The 29-year-old Mertens, who has scored 18 goals in Serie A and four in the Champions League, had a chance to make it 3-2 in the first leg in Madrid, but he missed an easy opportunity and deprived his team of a second away goal.
Although the win over Roma will give Napoli a confidence boost heading into Tuesday's match at San Paolo Stadium, Sarri doesn't think his team has much of a chance to overcome Madrid.
"The pressure's all on them," Sarri said. "They are the world and European champions. They are the strongest team and they have a duty to win.
"It seems an impossible task for us but it could become difficult for Real, too. ... However it goes it will be a party. The hope is that these kinds of matches become a habit for us as it is for them."
Real Madrid is making the trip to Italy with Cristiano Ronaldo fully rested after skipping the team's Spanish league match at Eibar on Saturday. Ronaldo, who is two goals short of becoming the first player to score 100 times in European competitions, has scored four goals in his last three games.
Gareth Bale, who didn't play on Saturday because of a suspension, also should be at full strength. Zinedine Zidane's other forward on Tuesday will likely be Karim Benzema, who scored twice in the team's 4-1 win over Eibar.
On Saturday, Napoli had to survive a tense final few minutes after Roma worked its way back into the match. Sarri knows his players need to do better against Real Madrid.
"When a team is as strong as Real, there's little to say or to do," Sarri said. "It will be difficult because of their technical and physical qualities. The most important aspect is defense because they often the change their attacking ways.
"Maybe we have a 3 percent chance but we have to try."