Rafa Benitez explained his tactical choices and has faith “Napoli showed we can hurt Athletic Bilbao.”
The 1-1 draw at the Stadio San Paolo left the Champions League play-off hanging in the balance.
“We saw the game I expected to see,” Benitez told Sky Sport Italia.
“Athletic Bilbao are an intense side who work hard, but at the start we had two or three great scoring opportunities. We didn’t, and with their intensity Athletic took control.
“Considering the way the game went, we can consider our reaction positive and must begin again from that.
“Athletic will certainly go out there to win, which means they want to score and so do we. I have confidence, of course it won’t be easy, but today we proved with five or six scoring opportunities that we can hurt them.”
“Higuain is angry, like everyone, as we expected a tough game and to win it. At least it means he’ll put even more determination and anger into the second leg,” noted Benitez.
Lorenzo Insigne disappointed on the night and was jeered off the field by the fans, reacting with a sarcastic gesture.
“Insigne is Neapolitan, wants to impress his people and it’s not always easy to keep control of those intense emotions at this level.”
Benitez caused surprise with his starting XI, picking Walter Gargano and Miguel Angel Britos instead of Gokhan Inler and Faouzi Ghoulam.
“Gargano was one of the best players on the field tonight, so it’s easy to explain why I chose him.
“We know Britos is not a left-back, but we’re working with him in training and he did much better in the second half. On the goal he looked at the player too much and not the ball, but he has the capabilities to perform this role. At this moment he’s in better physical shape than the others, so he played tonight.
“Athletic have been working together for a long time and we saw the effect of their pressing and intensity. The key could’ve been the ball behind the defence, but with these fitness levels it’s not easy.
“With Dries Mertens on we saw the difference in his ability to get to the by-line and give the side depth. We are two weeks behind Athletic Bilbao in pre-season training, that’s all.”