Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti has dismissed the praise Pep Guardiola offered his side ahead of the Champions League quarter-final draw.
Manchester City are the bookmaker’s favourites to win the Champions League this season after securing their place in the quarter-finals with a 7-0 thumping of RB Leipzig on Tuesday.
However, there is another side that everyone in Friday’s quarter-final draw – City included – will be keen to avoid in the next round.
Napoli booked their place in the last-eight for the first time in their history, after seeing off Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 over two legs.
The Italian side look set to win a first Serie A title in 33 years having established an 18-point lead at the top of the table, and are now eyeing a Scudetto and Champions League double.
The form of attackers Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in particular has been integral to Napoli’s success, but Spalletti also deserves huge credit.
The Italian coach has done a remarkable job in implementing a relentlessly attacking and dynamic system, especially after several high-profile names left the club last summer.
What did the two managers say?
Speaking after City had beaten Leipzig, Guardiola identified Napoli as one of the competition favourites.
“Napoli are perhaps the best team in Europe this season,” he told reporters.
“In terms of playing style, they are close to Arsenal. Then Milan are back, Inter too. They have both qualified.”
Guardiola is well-known for openly praising opponents that he admires, but perhaps surprisingly, Napoli boss Spalletti didn’t take the compliment as intended.
When asked what he made of Guardiola’s praise, he accused the City boss of playing mind games.
“I don’t feel proud, I don’t feel anything. I know this game that everyone does to put pressure on the others,” he told Sky Sports Italia, via Football Italia.
“Are we putting Napoli in front of Manchester City? If they can spend €900m compared to our €9m, there must be a reason. It’s a game to build us up so they can knock us down.”
City and Napoli will find out their quarter-final opponents and potential semi-final opponents when the draw takes place at 11:00 GMT on Friday, 17 March.