Benitez: Napoli are on the right track

The Spaniard says his team have to be wise in the transfer market this summer and stressed the importance of Sunday’s meeting with Lazio

Rafael Benitez believes his Napoli team are making great strides forward, despite going through many changes in the last year.

The southern Italians are currently third in Serie A and could break their own record of 70 points as they have racked up 64 with six games remaining. 

And the Spaniard thinks his club will continue to move forward in the next few years if they continue to work hard and improve the squad.

“Looking at the statistics, this is almost a record-breaking campaign for this club, despite a change of coach, players and style of football,” he told reporters. “We need to become more mature.

“When you talk to me at Napoli, you forget I was always at clubs where I didn’t have many funds at my disposal. And yet I won! Valencia and Liverpool didn’t have a high revenue when I was there, but we worked on the mentality of the players.

“We need to work harder and make the right choices on the transfer market. I think we are on the right path.”

The coach turned his attention to Sunday’s clash with Lazio, which he says his team will go all out to win as they look to clinch the Champions League spot.

“This game with Lazio is important so that we can guarantee third place,” he added.

“It will also be a special match for the fans. We will give 100 per cent to win. We have always done well at the San Paolo and the fans help us.

“[Lazio coach] Edy Reja is doing a great job. When you change coach, some things improve. It’ll be a difficult game, as they are highly motivated.”

Napoli will face Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia final in May, and Benitez is hopeful he can finish his first season with one piece of silverware.

“If we don’t win the final, then it could be a problem for the media and the fans. Fiorentina will want to win, just as we do. It is nonetheless a positive season, but we could’ve done better.”

He discussed his top goalscorer, Gonzalo Higuain, whom he says is capable of putting in much better performances than he has in the last few weeks.

“Higuain is training well, but knows he hasn’t performed to his best and that he must do, because he’s an important player for us.”

Higuain: Napoli deserved to progress in Europa League

The striker lamented what he believes is a harsh elimination, while Porto boss Luis Castro thinks that his team fully earned their place in the last eight

Gonzalo Higuain believes that Napoli do not deserve to have been dumped out of the Europa League after losing 3-2 on aggregate to Porto.

Goran Pandev’s opener levelled the affair over two legs early in the Stadio San Paolo clash, before Nabil Ghilas and Ricardo Quaresma turned the tie back in the visitors’ favour and left the Partenopei facing certain exit.

Duvan Zapata’s stoppage-time goal prevented defeat on the night for Rafa Benitez’s men but it was too little too late for the hosts, though Higuain thinks that elimination is harsh on Napoli.

“We deserved to go through because we played a good game, creating a lot even though their goalkeeper made many super saves,” the Argentine striker told Mediaset Premium after the match.

“We still have a long road ahead of us and we have to look to Serie A and the Coppa Italia final. We got so many points in the Champions League group stage but went out, and we played well today but exited too.”

Meanwhile, Porto coach Luis Castro thinks his team were overall the better side in the 2-2 draw and the previous leg’s 1-0 victory, and praised his players for performing well as underdogs.

“We knew it would be a very tight round, both for Napoli and us,” he told reporters. “There were times when they were all over us, there were others where we’ve been all over them.

“But at the end of the 120 minutes we were the deserved winners of the round of 16. We attacked this game very positively and over the second leg I think we were the team that was on top for more of the game and were closer to winning.

“The players were fantastic, they carried the values of Porto very well and were huge advocates for the club.”

Benitez silent on referee after controversial Higuain goal

The striker appeared to trip Torino defender Kamil Glik prior to scoring a last-minute winner on Monday but his coach was eager to focus on his side’s positive performance

Napoli boss Rafael Benitez refused to be drawn into a debate on Gonzalo Higuain’s controversial winner against Torino on Monday.

The Argentina international appeared to clip the heels of Kamil Glik before striding clear to score a last-gasp goal to earn his side a 1-0 win, after Torino had spurned a host of opportunities to break the deadlock themselves.

Benitez, however, was interested only in the positive aspects of his side’s showing after their defeat to Porto last week.

“I haven’t spoken about referees throughout the season, so I am not going to start now,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

“I think we created scoring opportunities, just like Torino did, and proved that this team wants to win right to the end.

“Torino sealed up very well and then went on the counterattack. We played against Porto on Thursday, we’ve been playing two games per week all season, so it’s not easy to stay sharp.

The form of Marek Hamsik continues to be in the spotlight at the San Paolo, with the attacking midfielder putting in another lethargic display on Monday, but Benitez insists he will recover his best form should he be given enough freedom on the pitch.

“He did much better today as he helped out the team in attack and defence,” insisted the Spaniard. “I never thought of bringing him into a deeper role, as he is so good at the final ball and with those runs forward. I said that I had faith in him and he replied with a good performance.

“I think he needs to have freedom to do what he wants to on the field.”

My Napoli future is limitless – Higuain

The Argentine forward has spoken of his affection for Naples and revealed that he has some high ambitions whilst at the club, including winning the Scudetto

Gonzalo Higuain believes the opportunities following his move to Napoli from Real Madrid last summer are limitless.

The 26-year-old moved to Partenopei in July for a fee in the region of €37 million and has enjoyed a successful start to his Serie A career, having scored 13 in 24 league games this season.

The forward insists that he has no regrets over his transfer to Rafael Benitez’s side and hopes to emulate the success of his famous compatriot Diego Maradona at the Stadio San Paolo.

“I’m well and happy – Naples is the perfect city to play football in,” the striker told La Repubblica.

“I only know the rough landscape so far but it’s like opening your window to start the day. We’re growing up together, me and the team. I have a long contract and there are no limits for me, including winning the Scudetto.

“Among my objectives there is also Maradona’s all-time goal record at the club.”

Maradona, who won two Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and the 1989 Uefa Cup with the Azzurri, remains the leading scorer at Napoli with 115 strikes in all competitions – and Higuain hopes to gain similar acclaim at the San Paolo.

“I’ve had a special relationship with the Neapolitans from the start,” he continued.

“I want to make them happy. Playing football for Napoli is a really special experience. I made the right choice. I’m young – no one’s seen the best of Higuain yet.

“The Scudetto is always the most important aim so we’ll try again next year. This year we have three objectives: second place, the Coppa Italia and the Europa League.

“We want the best of all worlds, we don’t want to choose. That’s why we have to win against Roma on Sunday.”

Napoli sit third in Italy with 52 points from 26 games and this weekend face the second-placed Giallorossi, whom they trail by six points.

Higuain happy with Napoli choice

While Gonzalo Higuain will have been expecting to be joining a Napoli team capable of challenging harder for the Serie A title than they have this season, the Argentine striker has insisted he is still convinced he made the right choice in signing for the Italian club.

 

The former Real Madrid forward arrived at the San Paolo last summer in a big-money move from the Bernabeu, shunning interest from a number of Premier League clubs to sign for Rafa Benitez at Napoli and surprising the Betfair odds. Despite scoring 13 Serie A goals already this season, Higuain hasn’t been able to keep Napoli in this season’s title race, currently 16 points behind leaders Juventus at the top of the table and runaway favourites with Betfair.

 

“I chose Napoli because I wanted to try a new experience in another country. I wanted to be part of another project in a new League. Napoli fans have supported me with all their love and I am happy with the choice I have made.”

 

“It is all new here, from the technical staff to the players. We need time in order to win, but we are having a very good season,” said the Argentina international.

 

With the title already seemingly beyond their grasp this season, Napoli’s main focus is on securing second place in the Serie A table this year. While Roma are currently seven points ahead of Benitez’ men, Napoli failed to cut the gap in the 1-1 draw with Livorno despite being the firm favourites with Betfair going into the game.

 

While has already been all but tied up by Juventus, Higuain still has a chance to finish his debut season at Napoli with some silverware to his name, with the club preparing to face Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia final, and Porto for a place in the quarter-finals – which will both be intriguing matches for Betfair.com visitors.