Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri is unhappy at facing Inter Milan so soon after visiting Manchester City in the Champions League while his opponents in Saturday’s Serie A showdown believe their absence from Europe could prove a blessing.
Leaders Napoli have won all eight league matches this season, while second-placed Inter, fresh from a derby win over AC Milan, have won seven and drawn one, making the fixture one of the most eagerly anticipated of the season.
However, while Inter have had all week to prepare, Napoli had to travel to the home of Europe’s most in-form team for a Champions League tie they lost 2-1 on Tuesday.
In a move that is unlikely to have won him any friends at European soccer body UEFA, Sarri made it clear that Saturday’s Serie A game would be his priority. The logic behind his thinking — that City will win all their group matches and that Tuesday’s match was one he could afford to lose — may also have struck a chord with those who feel the Champions League has become too predictable.
“City are the strongest team in the group and will probably win all six matches. Other matches will be decisive for us,” he said.
In the event, Sarri rested midfield duo Allan and Jorginho in favour of Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski. However, winger Lorenzo Insigne suffered a muscular injury which leaves him doubtful for Saturday.
“I am not diminishing the importance of the Champions League but I will rest players every now and then when they need it,” said Sarri, adding that Diawara and Zielinski were more than adequate replacements.
“If we changed two players and weren’t competitive, that would be a problem. I kept getting criticised for playing the same team, and now I’m criticised for changing too much.”
Sarri, whose side also visited AS Roma the previous weekend, took a swipe at Serie A organisers for the timing of Saturday’s match.
“Somebody at the league got it wrong when they drew up the fixture list,” he said. “It’s impossible to play on Saturday against AS Roma, away to Manchester City three days later and at home to Inter another four days after that.”
He also foresaw future problems.
“In December, we will play our last (Champions League) group game against Feyenoord and a few days later, we face Juventus,” he added. “It’s not a good situation for us when we are representing Italy in Europe.”
The Italian league could not immediately reached for comment.
Inter, by contrast, missed out on Europe altogether after finishing seventh in Serie A last season, considerably easing their fixture list.
“It’ll be an important advantage that we can rest midweek without European commitments,” forward Ivan Perisic said after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Milan.
“Napoli are the best side in Italy at the moment, but we are Inter.”