Higuain can make the difference without scoring – Benitez

The under-fire coach is happy with the attacker’s contribution and feels Napoli deserved their win over Sassuolo at the weekend

Napoli coach Rafa Benitez has defended Gonzalo Higuain in the wake of recent criticism and has stressed that the Argentine doesn’t need to score goals to make an impact.

The former Real Madrid striker has yet to find the net in Serie A this term, but Benitez is pleased with the 26-year-old’s contribution.

“Higuain hasn’t scored in Serie A yet, but he can make the difference with assists too,” Benitez told Sky Sport.

“We know that there are many players in this squad who can get goals.”

Napoli beat Sassuolo 1-0 on Sunday to climb to eighth spot in the table after a difficult start to the season and Benitez feels the win was a just reward for their hard work

“I see this as a victory for the team that rewarded our mentality.

“We only suffered for the final 10 minutes. Clearly every victory can help and we proved that we deserved more from this season.

“We were all united and we earned three important points. We worked very well in defence and Sassuolo only created problems with long balls. We were balanced.

“I think we still need to improve, but I am satisfied with this victory. We know that we are a strong club who deserved to win more games this term.”

Meanwhile, Napoli director Riccardo Bigon has insisted that Benitez’s job is not on the line.

“Benitez is a coach with a lot of experience and great achievements. He has won several trophies throughout his career. His results and working methods cannot be put in doubt.”

Higuain: I'm happy at Napoli

It has been reported that the Argentina international has been left unsettled by the club’s poor start to the season – but he he says he has no desire to leave a city he loves

Gonzalo Higuain insists that he feels “right at home” at Napoli – despite constant speculation linking the striker with a move away from the San Paolo.

The Argentina international only joined the Partenopei from Real Madrid last summer and enjoyed a stellar debut season in Italy, scoring 24 goals in all competitions as Rafael Benitez’s side finished third in Serie A and lifted the Coppa Italia.

There have been reports, though, that Higuain has been left bitterly disappointed by the lack of new arrivals over the summer, something he allegedly feels directly contributed to the dismal Champions League play-off loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Consequently, there has been talk of a January move to the Premier League, with Arsenal and Liverpool both said to be interested, but Higuain says he has no desire to leave Naples.

“The city has everything,” he told reporters at the launch of the EA Sports computer game, FIFA 15.

“It is very similar to Buenos Aires and an Argentine feels right at home there.

“Also, you can just take a boat and you are very close to beautiful places like Capri, Sorrento and Ischia.”

Higuain did admit, however, that he is still looking for someone to settle with in Italy.

“I have not yet found the love of my life,” the 26-year-old confessed. “I’m still looking for here.

“You must be friends and boyfriend and girlfriend at the same time.”

Napoli showed fighting spirit against Sparta – Benitez

The Spaniard was thrilled with the way in which the Partenopei battled back to beat their Czech opponents in light of a turbulent few weeks at the San Paolo

Napoli coach Rafa Benitez has voiced his delight with how his side responded to falling behind to Sparta Prague in Thursday’s 3-1 Europa League win.

Napoli found themselves trailing after 14 minutes in Naples, when Josef Husbauer opened the scoring for the Czech champions, but Sparta Prague were pegged back nine minutes later as Gonzalo Higuain converted a penalty, before a second-half double from Dries Mertens sealed maximum points for the Italian outfit.

While he feels there is still room for improvement, Benitez has stressed that he was pleased with Napoli’s response.

“I liked the positive reaction from the team,” Benitez told Sport Mediaset.

“After conceding that goal, we played a good game and it was all very positive.

“We could’ve done better defending corners, but the strikers created many scoring opportunities.

“Sparta Prague started with a 4-4-2 and pressed us a lot, so it wasn’t easy to control the ball.”

The win provided a much-needed boost for Napoli, who were surprisingly beaten 1-0 at home to Chievo in Serie A last week.

Higuain buoyed by Napoli 'redemption'

The Argentina star struck twice after his side had fallen behind on the night, to clinch a result that could kick-start a disappointing start to the campaign

Gonzalo Higuain says Napoli have redeemed themselves with their 3-1 victory over Sparta Prague in Thursday’s Europa League group game.

The Partenopei went 1-0 behind 14 minutes into their Stadio San Paolo clash, sparking fears among home fans of back-to-back defeats following their loss at the ground to Chievo on Sunday.

However, Higuain converted from the spot to trigger a turnaround of fortunes for Rafa Benitez’s men, with Dries Mertens scoring twice in the second half.

The Argentina striker believes that the performance was proof that Napoli are trying their hardest to turn around their middling 2014-15 fortunes, following a miserable start to their Serie A campaign.

“After Sunday’s defeat had to prove to our fans that we wanted to win and that we wanted these three points,” Higuain told Mediaset Premium. “It was an important game, we had to show our character.

“Last year we played in a lot of big games late in the season and this year we want to repeat that. I shot my penalty in the same direction as I did on Sunday – I was not thinking about another mistake but only to score.”

Napoli are back in action in Serie A on Sunday at Udinese.

Cuadrado, Eto'o, Higuain & the biggest stars of the Europa League

With the competition proper starting on Thursday, Goal take a look at the big-name players set to do battle for continental glory…

While the Champions League remains Europe’s premier club competition, the Europa League continues to gain ground and will again be a tournament full of big stars in 2014-15.

The involvement of major clubs like Napoli, Sevilla and Tottenham ensure there will be plenty of top talent on show immediately from the group stages – even before eight Champions League clubs join the party in the New Year.

In a list that is sure to whet your appetite for the opening games, Goal take a look at 10 of the biggest stars who will be playing in the Europa League this year…

Carlos Bacca (Sevilla)

Sevilla may have lost Ivan Rakitic, Alberto Moreno and Federico Fazio from last season’s Europa League-winning squad but they were able to hang on to star striker Carlos Bacca.

The 28-year-old Colombian scored 21 goals during his first season in Spain – including a vital strike in the dramatic semi-final tie against Valencia – and will be key to his side’s hopes of defending the trophy.

Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina)

After being heavily linked with moves to Barcelona and Manchester United after an excellent World Cup for Colombia, Juan Cuadrado eventually stayed with Fiorentina.

Vincenzo Montella’s men are ranked amongst the competition favourites and the electric 26-year-old wideman is likely to provide a consistent threat to their opponents as he builds on the best 12 months of his career to date.

Memphis Depay (PSV)

Memphis Depay built on an impressive 2013-14 season by starring at the World Cup for Netherlands, leading to him being the subject of intense transfer speculation this summer.

After eventually staying put, a groin injury unfortunately means the 20-year-old attacker will be out for six to eight weeks – but he will be expected to play a key part in PSV’s challenge on his return to fitness.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)

Christian Eriksen has been a European regular in both the Champions League and the Europa League over the course of his young career to date.

The 22-year-old former Ajax playmaker is already established as an important part of the Tottenham team and could provide the spark required to lead them to the long continental run the White Hart Lane fans crave.

Samuel Eto’o (Everton)

Samuel Eto’o has won a glittering array of honours in his career and now has the chance to add the Europa League to his collection after signing for Everton in the summer.

With Romelu Lukaku established as the first-choice attacker at Goodison Park for Premier League games, the Cameroon international should see plenty of action in the European matches and still represents a major goal threat.

Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli)

For the first time since moving to Europe in 2007, Gonzalo Higuain starts a continental group-stage campaign in the Europa League rather than the Champions League after Napoli’s playoff defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

But the Champions League’s loss is certainly this competition’s gain, with the World Cup finalist undoubtedly one of the biggest names on show and a player who is likely to be challenging for the golden boot award if he can stay injury-free.

Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg)

As a key part of the Brazil national team and a former Champions League winner, Luiz Gustavo is a bigger name than most of the players who will take to the field in this season’s Europa League.

The 27-year-old is one of the game’s top holding midfielders and remains at Wolfsburg to assist their European challenge after a rumoured move to Real Madrid failed to materialise in the summer.

Yevhen Konoplyanka (Dnipro)

After Yevhen Konoplyanka’s move to Liverpool fell through at the last moment back in January, few would have expected the Ukraine winger to still be playing at unheralded Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk beyond the summer.

However, the 24-year-old remains at the Dnipro-Arena and is the biggest threat possessed by the Ukrainian Premier League runners-up as they attempt to make their mark in the Europa League this year.

Mateo Kovacic (Inter)

Now entering his second full season with Inter, big things are expected of 20-year-old Croatia international midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

After playing in the World Cup this summer, he has already started 2014-15 on fire having scored four goals in as many games. With the San Siro side one of the top clubs playing in the competition, expect Kovacic to produce some eye-catching performances.

Virgil van Dijk (Celtic)

Classy defender Virgil van Dijk was one of the few positives to emerge from Celtic’s disappointing Champions League campaign last season.

The Scottish champions have a better chance of making a long run in the Europa League and the tournament provides the 23-year-old Netherlands international with another perfect opportunity to showcase his talents.