Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik has made an impassioned plea for more playing time amid speculation the Serie A giants could cash in by selling highly-fancied Belgium midfielder Dries Mertens in the summer.
Milik, sidelined for nearly six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered last October, ended a seven-month wait for just his fifth league goal when he came off the bench to save Napoli’s blushes with a late leveller in a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo on Sunday.
Now the Poland international, bought from Ajax for 35m euros (dollars) last summer as a replacement for Juventus-bound Gonzalo Higuain, says he can help Napoli achieve their objective of a top-two finish.
“I’m very disappointed about the result because we’ve lost two precious points, but personally I’m very happy to be playing for Napoli again and to finally find the net again,” Milik told Radio Kiss Kiss.
“It won’t be easy for us, especially if Roma win at Pescara tomorrow (Monday) and take their lead over us to four points. But the race for second isn’t over.”
A week before Napoli travel to an increasingly desperate Inter Milan, now seven points off the Europa League places, he added: “We’re already focusing on winning our next game. We have the quality to do it.”
Had it not been for Milik on Sunday, Napoli’s hopes of a top-two finish would have suffered further. The Pole also deserves credit for patiently biding his time on the bench while Mertens continues to blossom after being pushed into the striker’s role from midfield following Milik’s ligament tear last October.
Milik made his long-awaited return on February 19, but has since struggled to impress Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri.
Mertens’ 22-goal tally in the league so far has featured several hat-tricks. And while his wife is reportedly pushing for a move away from Naples, reports in England about a possible summer move to the Premier League are on the increase.
Milik, meanwhile, hopes his long-awaited goal gives Sarri a gentle reminder of his prowess. Last September, he quickly helped bitter Napoli fans forget 36-goal hero Higuain by hitting four goals in Napoli’s first four games.
“Everyone knows how I was playing before my injury,” added Milik. “Now, I’m feeling great, better than I did two months ago and I’m ready to play even more. That way I will only get better.
“Obviously I’d like to play more, but it’s up to the coach and I’ll be happy to give it everything in the time he gives me.”
Sarri gave little indication, though, that he will meet Milik’s request.
“I’m happy for Arek, after a few difficult months it was important for him to score again,” said the Napoli coach, who was more concerned about dropping two points.
“We hit the woodwork three times, one of which was a great effort from (Lorenzo) Insigne and we’re left feeling we could have easily won this game.”
The draw left Napoli in third place but at risk of trailing second-placed Roma by four points if they beat Pescara away on Monday.
Sarri added: “The draw complicates things a little, even though we will fight all the way, because although we have five games remaining it will be difficult to claw back points.”