Ever since Manchester City were drawn in Champions League Group F with Napoli, the club’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola has been effusive in his praise of the Serie A leaders and their coach Maurizio Sarri.
The teams clash at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday in a game Guardiola believes could be a feast of attacking football.
But his recent words, including the suggestion that the Italians are among the top three sides in Europe, led Napoli’s outspoken president Aurelio De Laurentiis to suggest there may be mind games at work.
Guardiola laughed off those remarks and insisted he was a genuine admirer of Sarri and his team.
“I heard from president of Napoli in Gazzetta (dello Sport) that my words are just to distract Napoli but it is just what I believe,” the Spaniard told reporters on Monday.
“I believe they are a really good team in all senses but if the president prefers to hear they are a disaster then I can say that as well,” he said with a grin.
“Maybe you don’t believe me. If I say good things about Napoli it is because I truly believe what i’m saying. I don’t need to compliment them. They are a great team,” he said.
“They are very good when they play with the ball. They can build actions really well, they are able to push forward and do so many things well.
“Tomorrow when we are on the pitch we will both try to attack, both teams will want to keep the ball and score as many as possible. I think when you have two teams that want to play in this way you get a really interesting match,” he added.
Napoli have made a perfect start to the Serie A season, winning all eight games and scoring 26 goals with a style of play that is more expansive and attacking than is traditional for Italian teams.
“They do many, many things and the things they do they do perfectly,” Guardiola said. “It is not a team that is going to wait. They make high pressing and to amazing build up in the middle.
“They have three guys who are so dynamic, (Lorenzo) Insigne, (Dries) Mertens and (Jose Maria) Callejon. In the middle they have (Marek) Hamsik who can also run in behind,” he said.
Guardiola said he had first noticed Sarri during his spell at previous club Empoli and said he could be viewed as an innovator in a similar fashion to former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi.
“I like to watch football and I like to watch Napoli when I am sat in my home,” Guardiola said.
“I love many, many things about a Sarri team. Tuesday is a big test. For me it is fascinating to have a challenge. Hopefully those who watch it will enjoy it”.