Spalletti talks Liverpool comparison and team news ahead of Ajax-Napoli

Luciano Spalletti does not want his Napoli side to rest on their laurels ahead of their key Champions League clash against Ajax.

The Partenopei have had an explosive start to the season, ascending to the top of the Serie A table and winning both their opening Champions League games against Liverpool and Rangers. Napoli look a team reborn after their work in the summer transfer window and now belief is starting to grow in a serious Scudetto bid.

Speaking in a press conference, Spalletti first discussed what’s changed with goalkeeper Alex Meret this season.

“Now I play him, that has changed.”

He looked ahead to the tough challenge against Ajax.

“It seems to me that Schreider is doing a great job. We are similar as a team type, we both like to go and play the ball on the ground, at speed, build from the back. 

“They also have the alternative of this long game immediately, having impact players up front on a physical level, you can launch the ball at them. We often have to create an alternative way of attacking. 

“It will be an exciting challenge, in a magnificent stadium against a fantastic club. We can only become great by playing great games. We want to try to do that.”

He provided an update on the health of his squad ahead of the Champions League clash.

“We have a squad of players at our disposal that resembles a Napoli squad. To be a Napoli player you have to be of a certain level. It may be that tomorrow two or three other starters will play instead. 

“When you only have one training session to play a match we take time to think, to evaluate with staff and doctors what the individual situations of the players may be.”

The Italian coach did not believe the suggestion that Napoli only needed a point to progress to the Round of 16.

“You try to distract us. The work ethic, of going into game after game, gives you a personality, a belief that you are strong. You can’t have games where you hide because maybe that might be an advantage. 

“No, you go hard because up front Ajax can build well and we will try to take away space for them to make plays. We’ll play our football, which is also changing in Italy and many teams are doing well.”

Spalletti was excited to face Ajax at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam.

“It’s great to come and play in a fantastic stadium like this, just as it’s great to take the history of our stadium with us. You have to be at that level there to nurture dreams of performances and big wins. 

“I said last time that for me the day before the Champions League is like the day before Christmas. It’s the same today. We want to be up to playing football worthy of the names of these two stadiums.”

He reacted to the suggestion from Ajax’s Alfred Schreuder that Napoli were stronger than Liverpool.

“Schreuder went a little overboard with the compliments. We will not change our attitude that led us to play these games here. 

“We built this opportunity for ourselves and we missed playing these games. The environment last year reminded us that we have to be here, in these matches. Tomorrow night there will be no distracted brains on the pitch.”

He touched on what Napoli still need to improve despite their strong start.

“We want to keep going forward, to create glimmers to do even better. We have to be the ones who bring a proper work ethic to every training session and put into practice what we prepare. If you come here and settle on what might be in the indecisions, it might not end well.

“As always, we will have to push hard on every ball without the risk of becoming reckless. We have to be aware, good at interpreting the game, go hard on the opponent and recompose quickly because the defensive line and team distances must be the same. 

“We want to earn our best on the pitch, game after game. More steps forward can be taken and there must be the will to believe in it and to go and earn it game after game.”

The Italian coach commented on the team’s chances of progressing to the Round of 16 after their opening two wins.

“If we’re extraordinary we can also progress after these two games against Ajax, but in front of us there’s an opponent with strong players like us. 

“Maybe more international experience, in the Champions League. They are just as determined to make the name they wear on their shirts as we are.”

Finally, Spalletti gave his thoughts on Ajax’s strengths and their style of play.

“I watched the current Ajax, who play a current, modern football, as the club’s tradition wants, as a demanding fanbase like the one in Amsterdam wants. You have to be good to be able to take it where we want to take it. 

“They have the ability to build up from the back with a strong ball on technical and physical players up front. As Meret said, we have to have our antennae straight, be alert and expect everything. 

“In the Champions League balls go to die in certain areas of the pitch and with one kick you find them somewhere else. This consistency of being ready will make the difference.”

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