Football

Sarri: Napoli can't compare to Juventus

Partenopei boss Sarri says focus not on Serie A title fight, but on beautiful football

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri has claimed his side are still the underdogs to defending champions Juventus in the Italian Serie A title race, despite beating Bologna 3-1 on Sunday to return to the top of the table.

A double by Belgian Dries Mertens and an own goal from Ibrahima Mbaye saw the Stadio San Paolo outfit recover from a calamitous start, with Rodrigo Palacio nodding Bologna ahead after merely 25 seconds.

With the win, Napoli restored their one-point advantage over Juventus who had moved top after Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain scored in a 2-0 win at nine-man Chievo on Saturday.

Sarri, though, refused to get carried away with his side's splendid display of fighting spirit, instead saying that his side remain inferior to Massimiliano Allegri's team.

Said Sarri in calciomercato.com: "We cannot compare ourselves to Juventus. They are clearly superior in every way.

"Juve win 90 per cent of their matches. Our aim is to play beautifully. We like playing good football, enjoying ourselves and entertaining."

"We did well to react after a goal conceded after 30 seconds," he added.

"The reaction was strong, even though we were less brilliant than usual in the first half.

"For three months, the team have not trained much in terms of quantity and now, since two weeks ago, they have been doing it at a superior level."

Sarri's caution mirrored that of forward Mertens, whose third goal in a week took his league tally for the season to 13.

The 30-year-old Belgium international reckoned they got off lightly from a poor start to the game and warned that they cannot afford to repeat a mistake like that.

He was quoted as saying in football-italia.net: "These are the matches that cannot begin like that.

"You don't always manage to turn it around - they (Bologna) are a team with good players and a good coaching staff.

"We conceded the first goal and, luckily, we immediately scored ourselves.

"Were we thinking about Juve? You always need to play the match sooner or later. For me, it doesn't change a lot. No one in the team had that in mind."

However, he vowed that Napoli are determined to win their first league title since 1990.

He said: "We need to continue as we are, one game at a time. We are working every day and giving everything. We will go until the end, then we'll see. Our game is to play at a high tempo and today I was there at the end."

The championship battle looks increasingly like a two-horse race as behind the leaders Lazio - 10 points off Juventus in third - Inter Milan and Roma all failed to win, AFP reported.

Juventus midfielder Khedira, not expecting the challenge from Napoli to let up anytime soon, is already preparing himself for a long, hard campaign.

"This battle with Napoli will last for the whole season," said Germany international Khedira.

"We worked hard during the (winter) break, the season is long and we're still in the running in all competitions - we want to be there till the end in every one."

Football