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Dries Mertens must start against Athletic Bilbao

Let's make no bones about this: if Napoli want to win their Champions League Playoff tie, then their Belgian winger absolutely must start this match.

Paolo Bruno

Last week, Dries Mertens sat the bench against Athletic Bilbao, with Lorenzo Insigne preferred for the start at the left wing and the Belgian not coming on until the hour mark. That didn't keep Mertens from having an impact on the match, however, as he immediately added dynamism to Napoli's attack and played a role in their goal.

Now, with the second leg of the tie coming up tomorrow, Rafa Benitez is faced with a choice. A choice that, if he gets it wrong, could knock Napoli out of the Champions League. That would be, to put it mildly, an unmitigated disaster. The choice is whether to continue with Insigne or start with Mertens on the pitch from the first kick, and to that there can be only one decision.

Dries Mertens absolutely must start.

That's not to take anything away from the skill of Insigne, as he's a very talented player. But he's clearly out of form and his row with the fans seems to be shaking his confidence. With that being the case, the far more in-form and still ridiculously talented Mertens is the only logical choice to give Napoli the best possible chance to beat Athletic Bilbao tomorrow.

It's not just form that plays in to this statement, either. Mertens' ability to create from wide areas, be it from crosses or through balls in to the box, will be key against a packed-in box like Napoli are almost certain to see. Insigne is great on the dribble, but his distribution in the final third can still be a little lacking. Being able to spread out the directions that threats can come from will make it much easier and more likely to unlock Bilbao's back line.

This isn't to say that Insigne can't play a vital role in this match. His aforementioned dribbling ability could be vital as a sub against tired legs late in the match, especially if it goes to extra time. But for the majority of the match, Mertens' current form and ability to create around the box will be far, far more valuable to Napoli and their efforts to make the Group Stage.

Please, Rafa. Make the right decision. We all know you love and support Insigne, but for this one, a Belgian touch is required. Start Mertens, and watch the goals Drizzle in.