Maurizio Sarri has hit back at a tirade from Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis in the wake of their 3-1 Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.
Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring at the Santiago Bernabeu after only eight minutes but goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Casemiro gave the holders a solid first-leg advantage in their last-16 tie.
De Laurentiis slammed Napoli's players after the match for a lack of fight and appeared to question Sarri's set-up, which included Dries Mertens once more being deployed as a false number nine ahead of striker Arkadiusz Milik, who recently returned from a serious knee injury.
Sarri conceded that his side had been punished for being poor in possession but called on De Laurentiis to approach him directly with any concerns over his decisions.
"I'm at training every day and I am the one who chooses," he told a news conference. "The president can express his ideas. I'd rather he expressed them directly to me, but in the end I decide.
"We had Milik on the bench because we know that, in his condition, he cannot do more than 10 or 11 minutes, but in a spell like that he could give us something. Why experiment? We could have lost 5-0 in that way.
"If we make that many mistakes, it's difficult to be brave. If you misplace the second pass, you won't build any pressure. Our choice of passing wasn't always correct.
"I cannot evaluate the determination of a side that makes too many misplaced passes. Did we miss counter-attacks because of determination, or because we made the wrong passes?
4 - Napoli have conceded 3+ goals for the 4th time in their 11 away Champions League games. Rowdy. February 15, 2017
"You cannot hope to trouble Real Madrid when you lose the ball 20 or 30 times in your own half. It looked like more of a technical problem than one of attitude to me.
"People are acting as if we had a terrible game and that's not the case. We could have played better, for sure, but Real Madrid had relatively few chances compared to their usual standard.
"Playing Real Madrid in this stadium may well have had an influence on some of our younger players, but you grow up through games like this. It's all valuable experience.
"Despite the result, I think Napoli deserve to be here. Real Madrid had their best performance of the last three months – and I watched all of them."
Although the defeat leaves their chances of reaching the quarter-finals remote, Sarri believes that his side could yet cause problems for the holders if they treat the second leg like a final.
"We had by no means our best performance and if we play at our level, we can be a lot closer to them," he said.
"We are not talking about a terrible performance, but one where we made more technical mistakes than usual. We know we can do more. Of course it will be difficult against a side that usually score, so we need several goals in the second leg.
"The important thing is that the team believe we can do it. We might also have more focus on that one night. The San Paolo will be an inferno. It'll be tough to contain their attack but they won't have it easy."
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