After working with a short depth chart in the attacking end of the pitch for the last couple of weeks, Napoli should finally be working with a full deck again this weekend against Bologna. According to reports in Italy, both Dries Mertens and Manolo Gabbiadini are expected to be available to play on Sunday for Napoli's first match as a first-place club in Serie A in 25 years.
Mertens and Gabbiadini have both been absent since the international break, having both come up with injuries during their time away from the club -- though the Belgium national team still insists that Mertens arrived hurt, despite Napoli's continued assurances that he left healthy. Their absence has left Napoli short-handed in attack and struggling in the final third late in matches because Maurizio Sarri simply hasn't had much of anything to turn to on his bench to bring on fresh legs.
Now, though, it looks like both are set to return. Napoli's chief physio, Doctor Alfonso De Nicola, spoke on Radio Kiss Kiss on Wednesday with the encouraging news:
The team is fired up. I am confident that Gabbiadini and Mertens will recover in time for the game. They are already doing much better.
-Translation source: Football Italia
It would be surprising to see either player start, but just having them both available again will be a huge boon. The full week of rest obviously helps their recovery, giving them more time in training to build up fitness, and having Mertens and Gabbiadini available for a crowded run of matches from here to the winter break will help Napoli compete on all three fronts they'll be playing in over the next few weeks.
Between now and December 20th, Napoli will be playing five times, three times in the league -- including a vital match against Roma -- their last Europa League group stage match against Legia Warsaw, and their first Coppa Italia match, against Hellas Verona. It's likely that Mertens and Gabbiadini will start the two non-league matches, and will almost certainly play a role as substitutes in the Serie A matches as well.
One thing's for certain: this team is much better with Mertens and Gabbiadini than it is without them. Now we can all breathe a sigh of relief.