Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has bitten back at Napoli’s outspoken president Aurelio De Laurentiis ahead of the teams’ much-anticipated Champions League fixture on Tuesday.
De Laurentiis, who has previously labelled Lionel Messi “cretin” and agents “the cancer of our domain”, called Guardiola “a wily old fox” for lavishing praise on Napoli and said that the Serie A leaders might rest players against City in anticipation of a domestic showdown with Inter Milan five days later.
Guardiola insisted his assessment of Maurizio Sarri’s free-scoring side had been sincere and laughed off the Napoli president’s suggestions that City might face a weakened team in Naples.
“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.
Asked whether Napoli might rest players, he retorted: “Absolutely not. If he [De Laurentiis] is travelling this afternoon with Maurizio Sarri he can ask him what team he is going to play.
“I think in the last 10 games they have played the same line-up. I can announce to you which players are going to play for Napoli against us.”
Guardiola could recall striker Sergio Aguero for his first appearance since suffering injuries in a car crash last month, although there may be a temptation to stick with the XI who have won their last two matches – 1-0 at champions Chelsea and 7-2 at home to Stoke – in such impressive fashion.
“Day by day he is much, much better,” he added. “Yesterday [Sunday] he made an amazing training session. The day before Stoke, he was good but not perfect. He was much better.”
Sarri’s entertainers lifted Neapolitan hopes of a first league title since the Diego Maradona-inspired class of 1990 with Saturday’s 1-0 win at Roma, which continued their 100 per cent start after eight rounds of Serie A.
The only match they have failed to win came in a surprise 2-1 defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk, their first Champions League Group F game, and in Belgium’s Dries Mertens, who has 13 goals in 19 games this season, they boast one of Europe’s most in-form marksmen.
“I’m pretty sure it will be a fascinating game,” said Guardiola.
“They do many, many things and all the things they do, they do perfectly. They are not a team that is going to wait. There is going to be high pressing and they have the ability to make amazing build-ups, especially in the middle.
“They have three guys that are so dynamic. [Lorenzo] Insigne, Mertens and [Jose] Callejon. They are not guys to just receive long balls. They are so dynamic, good in small spaces and they run in behind and just the right tempo, especially Callejon.”