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Dries Mertens scores birthday brace as Napoli dominate Cagliari

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Napoli barely broke a sweat and hardly faced a defensive challenge as they dominated Cagliari en route to a 3-1 win.

SSC Napoli v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Napoli earned one of their easiest wins of the season on Saturday, dominating Cagliari in a 3-1 win that was never really in doubt. Dries Mertens scored a brace on his 30th birthday and assisted on Napoli’s third goal, putting a nice little bit of flair on what’s been a remarkable season for the Belgian forward.

The start of the match couldn’t have gone better for Napoli, with their first significant attack of the match proving effective. A low cross from Faouzi Ghoulam sprung Dries Mertens free behind the defense, and the diminutive attacker scored a delightful little goal for Napoli’s landmark 100th goal of the season.

Napoli continued to absolutely dominate the run of play after that, holding almost 75 percent of possession in the first half, but struggled to score more goals. They had excellent chances galore, but were consistently just a little bit off, with each of Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Marek Hamsik left holding their heads in frustration or shock at missed chances multiple times in the half.

The second half looked like it was going to start much like the first half ended, with an excellent scoring chance going begging right off the bat, but Mertens was having none of that. He scored just four minutes into the half, a much tougher finish this time off another Ghoulam assist, to give him 30 all-competitions goals for the season on his 30th birthday.

As the match progressed, Napoli kept pushing hard for more goals, and in the 67th minute Mertens decided to turn provider, setting up Insigne for his 15th league goal of the season and his 17th in all competitions, the best scoring output Insigne has had yet in his young career. He nearly scored another less than ten minutes later, striking hard and true from the edge of the box, but Rafael made an excellent save to parry it away.

As much as Napoli’s attack impressed all match long, a lot of credit needs to go to the midfield and defense as well, because they kept Cagliari almost completely contained all match long. Napoli wouldn’t have dominated possession the way they did — they were at 75% possession when Mertens and Insigne were subbed off late in the match — and even when they were on the ball, Napoli still kept Cagliari to just seven shots overall and three on target, with Cagliari’s only goal coming in the final seconds of the match after things were long done and dusted.

The win also takes Napoli provisionally into second place past Roma with 77 points, with Roma facing a tricky match on the road against AC Milan on Sunday, just a week after getting absolutely battered by Lazio. If Roma drop points again, second place will belong totally to Napoli — and the last three matchdays are a little bit kinder to Napoli on matchups than they are to Roma, so taking second now could prove massive in the final standings.

Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Chiriches, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Jorginho, Hamsik (Rog 69’); Callejon, Mertens (Milik 77’), Insigne (Giaccherini 79’)

Goals: Mertens (2’, 49’), Insigne (67’)

Cagliari: Rafael; Pisacane, Salamon, Bruno Alves, Murru (Farago 71’); Isla, Ionita (Pedro 68’), Barella, Padoin; Sau (Farias 78’), Borriello

Goal: Farias (90’+1)