Maurizio Sarri warns “this was the third game in a row we’ve started badly” and explained his Napoli choices against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Although Dries Mertens came off the bench to earn a penalty, converted by Arkadiusz Milik, the Partenopei lost their Champions League opener 2-1 in Ukraine.
“We had an approach to the game that was not right. Unfortunately it’s the third game in a row that we’ve started badly. In Serie A we managed to make up for it, but that becomes much more difficult at this level after 20 such terrible minutes,” the Coach told Mediaset Premium.
“Our reaction was more emotional than logical, even if we threatened to get the equaliser at the end anyway, but the approach was the issue.
“Our pressing wasn’t good and with the three between the lines we lost our distance between midfield and defence, so they were able to cut through us fairly easily. They didn’t create that many chances, but did make life difficult for us.
“If we had been able to at least intercept or make it tougher for them, we’d have kept Shakhtar in their own half and that’s where they are less effective.”
Sarri was asked why top scorer Mertens was left on the bench in favour of Milik.
“Yesterday I was accused of not making enough changes, now I am accused of too many. Dries is extraordinary and we don’t leave him out lightly, but pace is his greatest strength and he can’t have 50-55 games per year. He was coming off international duty too, so we decided to rest him and let him come on later.
“If we had managed to keep it on 0-1, he could’ve got us the equaliser. He has certain characteristics and qualities, so it’s not easy to leave him out, but sometimes we have to.
“Shakhtar have very physical defenders, but their forwards are fairly lightweight and focused on quality. The choice of Milik was a general one. Mertens has recovery rates that are different to Lorenzo Insigne, those are what our statistics tell us, so he needs rest.”
Did starting pre-season early to prepare for the Champions League play-off, in which they beat Nice 4-0 on aggregate, affect their fitness levels?
“If it was physical fatigue, it’d be far too early in the season. The play-off used up a lot of energy psychologically and perhaps getting through it created a slight sense of satiety that we are now paying for.”
Sarri has also been criticised for always substituting Marek Hamsik after approximately 60 minutes.
“Marek is going through a period where he’s not very sharp, but that happens to every player at one stage or another. I thought he did better tonight than in other games.
“You always need to give something for your teammates and right now Marek needs help from his teammates. He needs a while every season to get into form and in order to reach form he has to play regularly, so in my view it’s right to keep faith with Marek.”
Manchester City won 4-0 away to Feyenoord in the other game from this Champions League group.
“I think there was slight resting on our laurels after the Champions League play-offs, but we don’t get to train nowadays. We go from the plane to the warm-up to the match to another plane. It’s something we must understand and overcome.
“We must also not forget that we lost 2-1 at home to the seeded team in this group. If anyone thought the Champions League would be a walk in the park for Napoli, they have their feet back on the ground now. I knew there were risks here and we’d need a great performance to get a result.”