Luciano Spalletti wants Pep Guardiola and Paolo Maldini to know he is chief among their biggest fans, with the Napoli boss seeking to make peace with both men.

Speaking on the eve of his team's Champions League quarter-final against Milan, Spalletti stressed his recent spat with Rossoneri sporting director Maldini was no reflection of his admiration for the legendary former defender.

He also stressed he had no problems with Guardiola after recent toing and froing through the media.

Manchester City head coach Guardiola hailed Napoli as Europe's top team when the Champions League quarter-final line-up took shape, but that praise was palmed away by Spalletti.

The Napoli boss saw it as a ploy – "a game to build us up, so they can knock us down" – but he stressed on Tuesday he also recognised it as a compliment.

That was after Guardiola reacted on Monday to Spalletti's remarks by saying: "I don't want to talk about Napoli because the manager will be grumpy with me. So sensitive in Italy."

This time, Spalletti looked to calm the narrative.

"I learned a lot from Guardiola," Spalletti said. "Everyone has learnt something from Guardiola. For me, Guardiola is like [Jurgen] Klopp, [Roberto] De Zerbi, all the amazing managers.

"Guardiola, Klopp and De Zerbi are among the football managers I always look at. So if my expression was misunderstood by Guardiola, I'm sorry because I'm truly happy when a manager like him says good words about Napoli.

"It would take me days and days to appreciate Guardiola's former Barcelona."

A tunnel dispute involving Spalletti and Maldini was picked up by television cameras before the second half of Napoli's shock recent 4-0 home loss to Milan in Serie A.

He was quoted as describing Maldini's behaviour as being "disrespectful" shortly after the event.

According to Spalletti, that April 2 incident could be written off as "just standard chat" or a "small fight".

Napoli's 64-year-old coach even said he has a Maldini shirt on his wall at home and was "totally OK with him".

Luciano Spalletti promised Napoli can beat Milan without Victor Osimhen as he told his team to "enjoy every moment" of the club's maiden Champions League quarter-final.

The first leg at San Siro takes place on Wednesday, just 10 days after Napoli suffered an unexpected 4-0 trouncing at home against Milan in Serie A.

That result came almost out of the blue, with Napoli streaking away at the top of the league, where they now hold a 16-point lead over second-placed Lazio as a first Scudetto since 1990 looms.

Osimhen, their 25-goal striker, has not played for Napoli since before the recent international break due to an abductor muscle injury sustained on Nigeria duty.

He missed the Milan game in the league, from which Napoli bounced back with a 2-1 win over Lecce on Friday, and it remains to be seen whether Osimhen returns for the April 18 home leg against the Rossoneri.

"We have won very important games without Osimhen," Spalletti said. "I expect all my players will rely on their team-mates and their own qualities and abilities so that the most brilliant tactics come out."

Captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo agreed with coach Spalletti, saying: "We feel OK even if Osimhen isn't there tomorrow.

"He's a fundamental player, but we can't rely on him. We will have to face this battle with the players who are available. We will have to take any chances possible."

Napoli headed into this week as the competition's top scorers with 25 goals, with their average of 3.1 goals per game the fifth-best in a single campaign – after Bayern Munich in 2019-20 (3.9), Paris Saint-Germain in 2017-18 (3.4), Real Madrid in 2013-14 (3.2) and Liverpool in 2017-18 (3.2).

It is not only Osimhen who has been scoring for them in Europe either, with his haul of four goals in the Champions League matched by team-mates Piotr Zielinski, Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori.

 

The last Italian team to have as many different players scoring four or more goals in a single edition of the Champions League were 2002-03 finalists Juventus (Del Piero, Nedved, Di Vaio and Trezeguet), so that may bode well.

"We need to have fun. We can't go to the pitch and be afraid," Spalletti said in a pre-match press conference.

"We need to take this chance, enjoy the game, enjoy every moment, even tonight. We're going to have dinner, and we need to enjoy dinner, and after dinner, we need to enjoy those hours before we go to sleep. They have to enjoy every single moment and this will be satisfying as well.

"This expression I use – Christmas Eve – for games like this is part of the idea a match has to be enjoyed in every single moment."

The Milan game from April 2 is one Spalletti says his players can forget about.

"Champions do not regret when they fail," he said. "They just recover, they just stand up again, and this team is made of champions.

"We are about to play a match that could represent a turning point in our future. We are aware of this fact, and we are ready for it."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli is embracing his team's history of fulfilling their dreams as they prepare to face Napoli in the Champions League quarter-finals as underdogs.

With Napoli running away with the Serie A title, sitting 16 points clear already, Milan are generally considered outsiders for their upcoming Champions League duel.

But Milan beat Napoli 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as recently as April 2 in a major shock, and the Partenopei will once again be without talismanic striker Victor Osimhen.

Milan not being favourites is no issue for Pioli, however, as he pointed to their Scudetto success last season as being somewhat out of the ordinary.

Asked what he was expecting from Wednesday's contest at San Siro, Pioli told reporters: "I think we'll see balance.

"It's the first of two matches. It's impossible to repeat matches from in the league – we know we have to play a great game.

"We have to play a great game because the opponents require a great level of play. Napoli are the team with the best attack in the Champions League and who have won the most games after Bayern. They are a very strong team, they have great quality.

"We also need to be attentive. Napoli have great quality and know how to take advantage of every mistake.

"Serie A is another story. I think we have every chance to play and do well in the two games. With the power of our dreams we won the Scudetto last year, so dreaming is good for us."

 

The absence of Osimhen is a particularly significant boost for Milan, given Napoli had expected him to be fit again for the first leg after sustaining an abductor injury on international duty.

Osimhen has been a huge factor in Napoli's remarkable charge at the top of the Serie A table, with Luciano Spalletti's men closing in on a first Scudetto since 1990.

Osimhen has scored 25 times across all competitions, with none of those goals coming from the penalty spot – among players from the top five leagues, only Erling Haaland (38), Kylian Mbappe (28), Marcus Rashford (27) and Robert Lewandowski (26) have netted more non-penalty goals than the Nigerian.

Nevertheless, the defeat to Milan earlier this month was the only match Napoli have failed to win out of nine without Osimhen this term, and this was not lost on Pioli.

"We're talking about a great centre-forward, he's scored repeatedly both in the league and in the Champions League [but], up until the match against us, Napoli had always won without Osimhen," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"We're talking about a great team that has all the qualities to be fearsome."

He added: "The preparation has always been the same. With Osimhen, Napoli are stronger in depth, without him a little less. We keep everything in consideration, but we go ahead with our own concepts."

Victor Osimhen has been ruled out of Napoli's Champions League trip to Milan on Wednesday in a massive blow to the Partenopei.

The striker has not played for the runaway Serie A leaders since before the recent international break due to an abductor muscle injury sustained on Nigeria duty.

In their first match without him, Napoli were thrashed 4-0 at home by Milan in the league on April 2, before bouncing back with a 2-1 win over Lecce on Friday.

It was hoped he would be fit in time for the Champions League quarter-final first leg against the Rossoneri, with Napoli in uncharted territory so deep into the competition.

But now it seems the club are targeting the second leg next Tuesday for his return.

"Victor is not in a position to play, unfortunately," club president Aurelio De Laurentiis is quoted as saying by La Repubblica.

 

"We hope to have him back as soon as possible on the 18th at the [Stadio Diego Armando] Maradona."

Osimhen has been a huge factor in Napoli's remarkable charge at the top of the Serie A table, with Luciano Spalletti's men closing in on a first Scudetto since 1990.

Napoli are 16 points clear at the summit with nine matches left, and they are into the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever.

Osimhen has scored 25 times across all competitions, with none of those goals coming from the penalty spot.

Among players from the top five leagues, only Erling Haaland (38), Kylian Mbappe (28), Marcus Rashford (27) and Robert Lewandowski (26) have netted more non-penalty goals than the Super Eagles talisman.

Bayern Munich have reportedly fallen out of love with the idea of Tottenham striker Harry Kane and are instead prioritising Eintracht Frankfurt frontman Randal Kolo Muani.

Kolo Muani, 24, has been one of Europe's breakout forwards this season. After arriving on a free transfer ahead of the current season, he has scored a career-high 19 goals in 38 appearances.

The explosive striker was rewarded with an international call-up by France for the World Cup in Qatar, scoring his first senior goal in the semi-final against Morocco before having his potential tournament-winning strike saved by Argentina's Emiliano Martinez deep into extra-time in the final.

His rise onto the world stage has not gone unnoticed, and now Bayern view him as one of their top targets at the position.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN NOW VALUE KOLO MUANI ABOVE KANE

According to Sky Sports Germany, Bayern are desperate to recruit a new star striker in the upcoming transfer window, but since the departure of Julian Nagelsmann "Harry Kane is no longer very popular" internally.

Another target mentioned is Napoli's Victor Osimhen, but an asking price well over €100million makes that an unrealistic proposition, while Benfica's Goncalo Ramos is also mentioned as a potential alternative.

But Kolo Muani is now supposedly at the top of the list, even though Frankfurt have informed them that they will have to fork out around €100m to pry away the talent after he recently signed an extension – with no release clause – tying him to the club until 2027.

 

ROUND-UP

– Football Insider is reporting Aston Villa have strong interest in 27-year-old Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who would reportedly cost a club-record £45million.

– According to Foot Mercato, Paris Saint-Germain are big fans of 23-year-old Nice centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo and will make a run at him in the next transfer window.

Brighton and Hove Albion are confident 18-year-old striker Evan Ferguson will sign a new contract with the club despite interest from Manchester United and Tottenham, per the Daily Mail.

– Sport is reporting Barcelona's 19-year-old left-back Alejandro Balde is close to signing a new four-year contract that will include a £1billion release clause.

– According to Sport Bild, Arsenal and Chelsea are both investigating the price of 24-year-old Wolfsburg right-back Ridle Baku.

Champions League holders Real Madrid resume their European campaign on Wednesday as they once again go up against English opposition in Chelsea.

Now with Frank Lampard in charge again, Chelsea realistically need to win the Champions League just to qualify for it next season, with the Blues languishing 11th in the Premier League.

But after brushing Liverpool aside in ruthless fashion in the last round, Madrid will be massive favourites in the eyes of most people.

Wednesday's other Champions League duel is almost as intriguing. Serie A rivals Milan and Napoli will tussle in San Siro, with any of the four teams in that side of the draw likely fancying their chances of reaching the final.

Ahead of two potentially engrossing matches, Stats Perform picks out the best Opta pre-game facts.

Real Madrid v Chelsea: Benzema out to continue dominance of Premier League opposition

This season has been perceived as an underwhelming one for Karim Benzema in some respects, with injuries disrupting him – particularly ahead of the World Cup.

But since Qatar 2022, the only player across the top five leagues to register more goal involvements in all competitions than Benzema (24) is Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (25), and the Frenchman has been especially lethal in recent weeks.

He scored hat-tricks in each of his first two games this month and was sensational in Madrid's 6-2 aggregate defeat of Liverpool in the previous round, scoring three times over the two legs.

 

That haul means each of his last 10 goals in the Champions League have been against English clubs (in order: x4 Chelsea, x3 Manchester City, x3 Liverpool), which is already the longest such streak against clubs from a single nation by one player.

Benzema's form and Chelsea's rather unimpressive current state would have most considering Los Blancos firm favourites on Wednesday, and the Blues would do well to stop their hosts from scoring given they have netted in each of their previous 30 Champions League knockout games at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Chelsea and interim manager Lampard will be grasping to every hint of optimism they can find.

Their record against Madrid might be one such example, as they have the lowest percentage of losses (14 per cent) of any team to have played them at least five times in European competition.

The Blues are also unbeaten against the Champions League reigning champions since 2004-05 (six games), which is a record.

Milan v Napoli: Uncharted territory for the Partenopei

This promises to be a memorable season for Napoli, who are within touching distance of a first Scudetto since 1990.

But their Champions League journey could yet elevate this campaign to hitherto unseen levels for Luciano Spalletti's side.

After all, this will be their first Champions League quarter-final. Considering they were drawn into the side of the bracket that looks wide open, the outlook is promising.

 

Admittedly, Napoli were remarkably beaten 4-0 at home to Milan at the start of this month, though the Serie A leaders should be a different beast with Victor Osimhen back in the team.

The Nigeria international's brilliance in attack has contributed to Napoli being the top scorers in this season's Champions League with 25 goals, while only Bayern Munich have won more matches (eight to seven).

Furthermore, Napoli's average of 3.1 goals per game is the fifth-best in a single campaign after Bayern in 2019-20 (3.9), PSG in 2017-18 (3.4), Real Madrid in 2013-14 (3.2) and Liverpool in 2017-18 (3.2).

 

Milan will hope they have the defensive nous to counteract that. And, to be fair, they are one clean sheet away from five successive Champions League shutouts for the first time since 2004-05.

Some might also point to Milan's greater experience in such ties, though this will actually be just their first quarter-final since 2011-12, and they last reached the semis in 2006-07 en route to winning the competition.

For the Rossoneri, even when you take into consideration that freak 4-0 away win on April 2, a positive result on Wednesday is surely a must – Napoli will be aiming to make it four successive wins over Milan at San Siro.

Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly both in discussions with Benfica about a potential deal for striker Goncalo Ramos – although he is said to be neither team's top choice.

Ramos, 21, has enjoyed a breakout season in Portugal. After scoring eight goals in 46 appearances in the previous campaign, Ramos has replaced Darwin Nunez as Benfica's main man up top and netted 25 goals in 38 games.

He also shone on the world stage, scoring a hat-trick in Portugal's round-of-16 World Cup clash against Switzerland after replacing Cristiano Ronaldo, and despite his contract tying him to Benfica until 2026, the club are willing to listen to substantial offers.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA JOIN UNITED IN MAKING RAMOS THEIR BACKUP PLAN

According to Football Insider, Chelsea's top priority up front is Napoli's Victor Osimhen, while United have Tottenham's Harry Kane at the top of their shopping list, but both view Ramos as the ideal consolation prize.

Kane is expected to fetch a fee in the range of £100million, and Osimhen's asking price is even higher, but while Ramos has a £105m release clause in his contract, the report states Benfica will accept bids around £70m (€79m).

Improving Chelsea's chances is the fact Ramos is represented by the same agency as Joao Felix, who is on loan at Stamford Bridge from Atletico Madrid.

ROUND-UP

– Cadena SER is reporting Paris Saint-Germain have joined the race for Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham and would be able to pay him more than any other club.

– After recently making his senior debut for Italy, 23-year-old Argentine-born striker Mateo Retegui will make a move to Europe at the end of the season, with Eintracht Frankfurt and Inter showing the most interest, per Fabrizio Romano.

– Football Insider is reporting Newcastle United, Arsenal and Barcelona are all expected to make a run at signing Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Stefano Pioli was left frustrated by Milan's 0-0 draw with Empoli, believing it showed a return to normality after their 4-0 win at Serie A leaders Napoli previously.

The Rossoneri were held to a stalemate by the visitors to San Siro on Friday, missing the chance to consolidate their top-four spot after Inter had also drawn at Salernitana.

Having stunned the runaway title favourites Napoli 4-0 on their own patch last Sunday, Milan could not find the net this time despite having 23 shots, though only four were on target.

Pioli felt his side did all they could, but also suggested their performance reflected an anticipated comedown of sorts.

"It's not the result we wanted," he told Sky Sport Italia. "We had to do better in the first half. We played with great intensity.

"We conceded little to them, and in the second half, we did everything [we had to]. The ball just didn't want to go in.

"Goals are expected from the forwards if we create the chances. We needed to fill the area better. We lacked something to win.

"It's been a long time since we played with this level of energy and intensity, and I'm sorry. We wanted to win again after Napoli.

"But in my opinion, we're returning to the level [where we should be]. We need to improve our game, and we are doing that."

Milan face Napoli again next week, this time with the pair meeting for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at San Siro.

Luciano Spalletti hinted that Victor Osimhen could be fit to play in Napoli's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Milan on Wednesday.

The striker has 25 goals in 29 games for I Partenopei this season, but sustained a thigh injury while representing Nigeria during last month's international break, causing him to miss last Sunday's 4-0 loss to Milan.

Napoli recovered from that humbling and took themselves closer to a first Scudetto in 30 years with a 2-1 win at Lecce on Friday, when Osimhen was again absent.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header was cancelled out by Federico Di Francesco, before a second-half own goal from Antonino Gallo handed Napoli three points.

"It wasn't easy to secure this result after last Sunday's defeat and some injuries," Spalletti said at a post-match press conference. "A delicate situation had arisen, due to how we lost [to Milan] and because the Rossoneri are our next opponents in the Champions League. 

"Then everyone thinks these are filler games but that's not the case. It was essential to demonstrate that we were able to express ourselves again on good levels and that we had that kind of character. 

"For this I congratulate the players. These three points give us peace of mind to face the next matches."

On Osimhen, Spalletti revealed: "We need to see how he reacts to strong physical activities, so far he's done some basic jogging.

"It's difficult without him, because he has this way of running into space, this physicality, he can draw everyone to him and create the space for his team-mates.

"[Giacomo] Raspadori had a good first half tonight, he linked up well with the midfielders. We could have done it even better, because we brought too many balls back to the two centre-backs when there wasn't a need. On the pitch, however, we were balanced."

Giovanni Simeone replaced Raspadori in the second half, but was forced off with a knee injury soon after, potentially giving Spalletti a selection issue for the Milan game should Osimhen not recover in time.

"We need to evaluate [Simeone] carefully," he said. "It appeared to be a muscular problem, then the knee, then above the knee. When he tried to come back on again, he felt the muscle harden and it was best not to risk it any further."

Napoli got back to winning ways as an own goal from goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone handed them a 2-1 Serie A victory away at Lecce on Friday.

The league leaders were thumped 4-0 at home by Milan last weekend, but they bounced back by overcoming a stubborn Lecce, who can probably count themselves unlucky not to come away with a share of the spoils.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo headed Napoli in front early on, but the hosts equalised not long after half-time when Federico Di Francesco thumped home with a fine finish.

But an own goal gave Luciano Spalletti's men victory as Mario Rui's teasing delivery came off Antonino Gallo, with Falcone only able to paw it over the line as Napoli resumed normal service.

The hosts started brightly, Youssef Maleh forcing a great save from Alex Meret to palm over his rasping drive.

The visitors grew into the game though, and Di Lorenzo put them ahead in the 18th minute when he sent a powerful header from Kim Min-jae's cross flying past Falcone and into the back of the net.

A fingertip save from Falcone pushed Hirving Lozano's low shot past the post to keep Napoli's lead at just a single goal heading into the break, and Lecce levelled shortly after the interval.

A free-kick into the visitors' box caused havoc, and Assan Ceesay saw a header come back off the bar before Di Francesco rifled into the bottom corner.

Napoli went on to win though in bizarre fashion, as a mix-up between Gallo and Falcone from Mario Rui's cross ended with the goalkeeper clawing into his own net to give the league leaders their 24th Serie A win of the campaign.

Stefano Pioli says Milan are fully focused on their Serie A clash with Empoli, and not distracted by their upcoming Champions League quarter-final against Napoli.

The Rossoneri host the runaway league leaders in the first leg on Wednesday, but face Empoli at San Siro on Friday prior to that huge encounter.

Milan sit third in Serie A after their impressive 4-0 win at Napoli on Sunday, though with Inter, Roma and Atalanta all within three points of them in a tight race for the top four.

Pioli stressed the need for humility against 14th placed Empoli as their league campaign remains important despite the upcoming glamour of the Champions League last eight.

"It is crucial to stay in tension," he said at a press conference. "Matches are won first with attitudes and determination, and then with quality.

"We must be humble; the league is important to us and we must take advantage of this home game."

He added: "We have to stay on track. We produced an important victory in Naples, but we have to use it to play at that level there all the time. We just have to think about tomorrow."

When later asked how he can ignore the upcoming Champions League clash, Pioli said: "Because the objective in the league is very important and because otherwise the victory in Naples would be useless."

The Milan head coach was also asked about the club's former owner Silvio Berlusconi, who is in intensive care after being diagnosed with leukaemia.  

"We're all worried, but we don't have such precise news clearly," he said. "We hug him and hope he can recover and return to the stadium."

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was allegedly targeted by racist chants from Juventus fans following his equaliser in their 1-1 Coppa Italia draw in midweek.

When asked if Italian football has a racism problem, Pioli said: "I don't know. I have many friends who go to the stadium with respect, but I'm very sorry because football and sport must be lived with a different spirit."

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti is hopeful Victor Osimhen will be fit to face Milan in the Champions League quarter-finals, but the striker has "no chance" of playing at Lecce on Friday.

Osimhen sustained a thigh injury while representing Nigeria during last month's international break, causing him to miss last Sunday's Serie A meeting with Milan.

His absence was felt as Milan thrashed the champions-elect 4-0, but Napoli are positive regarding his prospects of featuring in the first leg of their European tie against the Rossoneri.

Before Wednesday's trip to San Siro, Napoli will look to get their title charge back on track at Lecce, where Spalletti will not have Osimhen available.

Asked about Osimhen's chances of facing Lecce, Spalletti said: "Tomorrow there is no chance. With the schedule, we said we must get to the following week. 

"There are many possibilities to see him against Milan, but we have to wait for the practical development of next week's work."

Osimhen's tally of 21 goals in Serie A this campaign is at least seven more than that of any other player, with Inter's Lautaro Martinez second in the scoring charts with 14.

The 24-year-old has hit 15 goals across all competitions since the turn of the year – a tally only bettered by Karim Benzema and Marcus Rashford (17 each) among players from the top five European leagues.

Despite Osimhen's absence, Spalletti expects Napoli to respond to last week's disappointment as they look to close in on a first Scudetto since the 1989-90 season.

"The week developed in the best possible way, I saw some great training sessions," Spalletti said. "It always amazes me, I've only had this a few times in my career.

"It's a very important match, we know how to face it. A performance is needed in these cases, after a defeat. 

"We still need five victories, 15 points, then everyone can say what they want."

Liverpool are reportedly no longer pursuing Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes and will instead pivot to Brighton and Hove Albion young gun Moises Caicedo or Chelsea and England talent Mason Mount.

The decision to turn their attention away from Nunes comes after Wolves removed a release clause in his contract that would have made him available for £44million in the upcoming transfer window, according to The Mirror.

The report states Wolves will still entertain the possibility of selling Nunes, but will now demand at least £50m for the player they paid £38m for in an August transfer from Sporting CP.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL TURN TO CAICEDO, MOUNT AFTER NUNES REVELATION

With Nunes out of the equation, The Mirror is reporting Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham remains the top priority, but Liverpool will investigate more "realistic" moves for Caicedo or Mount.

Caicedo, 21, signed a new contract with Brighton after the club turned down a £70m offer from Arsenal in January, but according to Football Insider the Seagulls were primarily against letting a top talent leave mid-season and will be far more open to discussions in the off-season.

Mount, 24, now has 15 months remaining on his Chelsea contract and has shown no signs of signing an extension, making him a prime candidate to leave the club in an effort to balance their books after lavish spending in the past 12 months.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Daily Mail is reporting Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham are among a host of clubs with interest in the £40million (€45.6m) release clause of 26-year-old Napoli centre-back Kim Min-jae, who would prefer a Premier League move if he is to leave Serie A.

– According to Fabrizio Romano, Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal have made an official offer to impending free agent Lionel Messi that would pay him £350m per year.

Lazio are trying to convince star 28-year-old midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to sign a new two-year extension to repel interest from Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Juventus, United and Chelsea, per Football Italia.

– Sky Sports Germany's Florian Plettenberg is reporting RB Leipzig and Inter are both pushing to sign breakout 23-year-old Tigre striker Mateo Retegui after the Argentine-born talent made his international debut for Italy recently.

– According to Mundo Deportivo, Atletico Madrid have offered 30-year-old striker Alvaro Morata a contract extension as he prepares to enter the final year of his current deal, although the club are willing to sell him if he would prefer a new challenge.

Luciano Spalletti is confident Napoli will bounce back when they face Milan in the Champions League quarter-finals, having seen his side suffer a crushing 4-0 defeat against the Rossoneri.

The Serie A leaders collapsed at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday, as the outstanding Rafael Leao scored twice for Stefano Pioli's rampant visitors.

While Napoli remain 16 points clear of their closest rivals Lazio, the defeat is their heaviest in Serie A since a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Atalanta in December 2007.

With Napoli looking certain to end a 33-year wait to win the Scudetto, their upcoming Champions League tie with Milan represents their most important assignment remaining this season, and Spalletti expects the Partenopei to improve for those games.

Asked whether the result represented a bump in the road for Napoli, Spalletti said: "Let's hope it's a hole and not a chasm. 

"Tonight I saw great willingness on the part of the boys, I'm very confident. We'll go back to work tomorrow morning for the next one.

"Here, we played against the Italian champions, they are a team of the highest level. Last year they deservedly won the title – if you get something wrong you'll get a clear result."

Asked whether the result could have a psychological impact on the Champions League tussle, he added: "We don't know. 

"We've always reacted since I've been here. Sometimes we've lost a few games, but we have always reacted."

Napoli have lost two of their last three home games in Serie A (W1), as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 20 league matches in Naples.

Spalletti's side also recorded 20 shots without scoring in a league game for the first time since December 2021, when they managed 26 attempts in a 1-0 defeat to Spezia. 

Napoli visit Lecce in their next Serie A game on Friday, before travelling to San Siro for the first leg of their Champions League last-eight tie five days later.

Stefano Pioli hailed Rafael Leao after he returned to form with a brace in Milan's remarkable 4-0 rout of Napoli, declaring the forward had not gone anywhere during his recent goal drought.

Having gone 11 games without a goal for Milan, Leao tore Napoli apart as the defending champions claimed a memorable win over the Serie A leaders at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

After lobbing Alex Meret for the opener, Leao scored his second of the game – and his 10th of the Serie A season – with a powerful left-footed finish to cap a lightning break from Pioli's men.

Leao – Serie A's Player of the Season last campaign – attracted criticism during his recent lean spell, but Pioli always had faith he would rediscover his best form.

Asked whether Leao was 'back' after his double, Pioli told DAZN: "He never left!

"He scored two goals, one from a central forward position and one from out wide. He has incredible potential and will become a champion."

As well as providing a huge boost to Milan's hopes of a top-four finish, the result served as a warning to Napoli ahead of this month's Champions League quarter-final tie against the Rossoneri.

Pioli, however, does not believe Milan's win will have any impact on those contests, adding: "Certainly today's victory gives us confidence, but they will be different matches. 

"Just because we won 4-0 today, it doesn't mean that Napoli have lost their certainties. We'll think about Napoli and face those two matches – I hope – with the personality of this evening.

"It will be a balanced match between two strong teams who are doing well in the Champions League. This season will be positive if we play in the Champions League again next year.

"There are still 10 days to go. It will be 180 minutes, but now we head to Empoli [on Friday] – in the league we haven't always faced matches with the right attitude."

Since Pioli joined Milan in 2019, the Rossoneri have posted five wins against teams starting that matchday top of the Serie A table – at least two more than any other team in the competition.

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