Higuain who? Mertens scores 4 as Napoli beats Torino 5-3
MILAN — Who needs Gonzalo Higuain, the record goalscorer in Serie A, when you have Dries Mertens?
Mertens’ emergence has eased the pain caused by Higuain’s departure in the off-season. Not content with bagging a hat trick last weekend, the diminutive forward netted four on Sunday to help Napoli to a 5-3 win over Torino.
Mertens completed a hat trick in nine first-half minutes and then saved the best until last — a sublime chip into the far corner in the 80th minute.
“Mertens is an extraordinary player, but the team makes it easier for him with the type of football they are playing,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “But we have to grow mentally. It should have been a match that was definitively over once we went 3-0 up and it wasn’t.
“We conceded goals with three stupid mistakes, carelessness that we absolutely can’t commit, but it was a very high level performance.”
Napoli leapfrogged above AC Milan into third, a point behind second-place Roma. It can be joined on 34 points by Lazio if the capital team beats Fiorentina later.
Higuain transferred to Juventus for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after breaking a 66-year-old Serie A record with 36 goals for Napoli last season.
Arkadiusz Milik was signed to replace him and scored seven goals in eight matches, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for Poland in October.
As a result, Sarri has been relying on a three-man forward line with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon flanking Mertens — and the trio is starting to gel.
Napoli opened the scoring in the 13th minute. It had taken short corners many times this season but to little dividend. However, this time it worked as it was played for Callejon, who crossed for Mertens to fire in on the bounce.
Mertens doubled his tally five minutes later, winning and converting a penalty after being pushed over by Antonio Barreca.
The 29-year-old forward completed his second successive hat trick in the 22nd minute.
Torino goalkeeper Joe Hart did brilliantly to keep out a powerful shot by Callejon, only for Mertens to fire in the loose ball at the second attempt after his initial effort was cleared off the line by Luca Rossettini.
Andrea Belotti got Torino back into the game shortly before the hour. It was the Italy forward’s 12th league goal of the season and moved him level with Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi and Roma’s Edin Dzeko at the top of the scoring charts.
Napoli restored its three-goal advantage in the 70th when Callejon rolled a low cross across face of goal and Vlad Chiriches tapped it in at the far post.
Torino again reduced the deficit when Pepe Reina spilled Adem Ljajic’s free kick and Rossettini was on hand to prod it in. But Mertens scored his fourth four minutes later.
Iago Falque converted a penalty in the 84th for Torino.
Sassuolo 0, Inter Milan 1
Inter Milan is finding its feet under new coach Stefano Pioli and claimed its fourth win in five matches — between Serie A and Europa League.
Both goalkeepers were kept busy but Antonio Candreva scored the only goal of the match two minutes into the second half.
Sassuolo ’keeper Andrea Consigli could only parry Joao Mario’s effort and it came out to Candreva, who fired it powerfully into the back of the net.
Inter midfielder Felipe Melo was sent off in stoppage time for a second bookable offence.
Bologna ended its goalscoring drought by winning 3-0 at 10-man Pescara.
Bologna hadn’t scored in its last three Serie A matches but Adam Masina headed it in front in the seventh minute.
Pescara was down to 10 men for an hour after Valerio Verre was sent off for a dangerous tackle and Blerim Dzemaili doubled Bologna’s lead before Ladislav Krejci sealed the result from the penalty spot.
Elsewhere, Chievo Verona beat Sampdoria 2-1 and Cyril Thereau scored twice as Udinese beat Crotone 2-0. –Daniella Matar/AP
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