October 30, 2017 / 3:10 AM / 10 months ago

Soccer: Napoli coach not treating Champions League as a distraction

MILAN (Reuters) - Napoli are proud to be in the Champions League and it would be unfair to describe it as a distraction, coach Maurizio Sarri said on Sunday as he toned down previous remarks about the competition.

Soccer Football - Serie A - Lazio vs Napoli - Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy - September 20, 2017 Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri before the match REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/Files

When the Serie A leaders lost 2-1 at Manchester City earlier this month, Sarri rested midfielders Allan and Jorginho, saying his priority would be the following Serie A match against Inter Milan.

Sarri said the logic behind his thinking was that he expected the English Premier League side to win all their Group F matches anyway, leaving Napoli to battle with Shakhtar Donetsk for second place.

Serie A leaders Napoli host the return leg on Wednesday, but this time Sarri said the match would be treated as a priority.

“Is the Champions League a distraction for us? It would be over-the-top to say that; we are proud to be part of it, given that we are talking about the most important competition in Europe,” he told reporters after Sunday’s 3-1 win over Sassuolo.

“It’s also natural that in the minds of the players they focus more on the competition they’ve got a better chance at, but we must be eager to challenge ourselves against the best.

“Taking part is a cause for pride, although in the back of our minds we know we only have a small chance of winning it. But to call it a distraction would be mean-spirited.”

Napoli have made a flying start to Serie A, taking 31 points from a possible 33, although their squad lacks strength in depth and they have Inter Milan, Juventus and Lazio in hot pursuit.

“It’s a really difficult match, but also a great challenge,” said Sarri. “I think that for the last two or three months, Manchester City have been the strongest team in Europe.”

“We want to face them with a strong team although we know it will be very tough to win. But we believe in it and we will play a great match.”

Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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