Mertens hat-trick propels Napoli back to second in Serie A

Napoli moved to within three points of table-topping Juventus with the win over Empoli.

Two of Napoli's goal-scorers, Arkaudisz Milik and Dries Mertens.   -  AFP

Dries Mertens scored a hat-trick as Napoli warmed up for next week’s crucial Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain with a 5-1 thrashing of Empoli to go back to second place in Serie A and put the pressure on champion Juventus.

Napoli, with 25 points from 11 games, moved three points behind champion Juventus, which hosts Cagliari on Saturday with Inter Milan a further three points back before its game against Genoa.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring for the host after nine minutes in the San Paolo Stadium with Belgian Mertens also scoring in the first half.

Mertens added two more after the break in the 64th minute and in stoppage time with Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik also getting on the scoresheet in the last minute.

It got Carlo Ancelotti’s side back winning after consecutive draws against Paris Saint-Germain (2-2) and AS Roma (1-1).

Francesco Caputo, who scored the opener against Juventus last weekend, pulled a goal back for Empoli, but it failed to spark a revival for the Tuscan side which remains winless since its opening match of the season against Cagliari.

Ancelotti rotated his squad ahead of Wednesday’s game against the French champion, bringing in French defender Kevin Malcuit and young midfielders Amadou Diawara and Marko Rog, but he stuck with the trusted forward attack of Insigne and Mertens.

Insigne got the first after nine minutes after good work by Kalidou Koulibaly with the Senegalese defender breaking through from his own half.

Luca Antonelli thought he had scored the equaliser for Empoli on 15 minutes but the goal was ruled offside.

Insigne then intercepted a reckless Giovanni Di Lorenzo back-pass to set up Mertens, whose low drive from a distance found the net on 38 minutes.

Caputo gave Empoli hope when he beat the offside trap with a diagonal shot after 58 minutes, but six minutes later Mertens got his second.

Insigne and Mertens were instrumental in Milik’s fourth on 90 minutes, with Insigne then setting up Mertens for his 75th Serie A goal deep into injury time.

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