Napoli are closing in on the signing of Verona striker Giovanni Simeone as Luciano Spalletti said the Serie A club are beginning a "new cycle" following a host of big-name exits.

Spalletti's team threatened a first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona era before tailing off to finish third last season, but have since seen the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne depart.

Reports have suggested Napoli will combat the losses of Mertens and Insigne – the top two goalscorers in the club's history – by bringing in Verona striker Simeone on an initial loan deal.

Simeone – the son of Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone – scored 17 Serie A goals last season, a tally bettered only by Ciro Immobile (27), Dusan Vlahovic (24) and Lautaro Martinez (21).

The Argentine averaged a goal every 157 minutes throughout the campaign, converting 55 per cent of his big chances.

Ahead of Napoli travelling to Verona for their Serie A opener on Monday, Spalletti revealed the striker's arrival was imminent as he pledged to rebuild the Partenopei's side.

"If everything is okay, of course he will come, we are waiting for him, if you stay, say hello to him too!" Spalletti said amid reports Simeone was undergoing a medical with Napoli.

"He is one we need and Naples is what he needs, it is a correct purchase.

"We will do our best right away, and that I am convinced that we will make the fans fall in love again, as happened last year.

"Now we are talking about a Napoli that no longer sees in their ranks the most important players, and there is talk of players for a new cycle.

"It's a responsibility that stimulates me a lot. Of course, a little support from the city and society is needed, the most difficult things are those of the changing room dynamics.

"They changed without [Faouzi] Ghoulam, [David] Ospina, Mertens and Insigne. In addition to the game dynamics there are those of character, and we have to recreate those there. I'm not afraid of anything." 

Napoli have announced the signing of central defender Kim Min-jae from Fenerbahce, shelling out a reported €19.5million for the South Korea international in a bid to replace Kalidou Koulibaly.

Luciano Spalletti's team finished third in Serie A after threatening a first Scudetto win since the Diego Maradona era last term, conceding the joint-fewest goals in the division (31, alongside Milan).

But the Partenopei have been in the market for reinforcements since they lost defensive colossus Koulibaly to Chelsea in a €40m deal earlier this month.

Kim, who has 42 caps for his country and will hope to feature when they open their World Cup campaign against Uruguay on November 24, is the man Napoli have signed to fill that void after he enjoyed an impressive one-season spell in Turkey.

Having contributed to Fenerbahce conceding just 38 league goals last term, the towering 25-year-old has penned a three-year deal with the option of two further seasons in Italy.

Reports also suggest Kim will have a release clause of €45million.

Napoli begin their 2022-23 Serie A campaign at Verona on August 15 but have endured a troubled off-season, losing both Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne during the transfer window, while president Aurelio De Laurentiis confirmed on Saturday that club legend Dries Mertens is also departing.

Victor Osimhen has quashed rumours of a move away from Napoli and praised boss Luciano Spalletti, after he was ejected from a training session on Sunday.

Spalletti was referee for a team scrimmage and was prompted to kick Osimhen out of the training session after the Nigeria international responded angrily to a challenge from Leo Ostigard.

The 23-year-old, who contributed to 24 goals in all competitions for the Partenopei last term, has been linked in the off season with Bayern Munich and Tottenham.

Osimhen poured cold water over those rumours, however, by asserting he wants to stay at Napoli.

"A transfer? I talked to ADL [Napoli owner Aurelio de Laurentiis], calm down. Spalletti's top," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"I am at Napoli, and I have great respect for my club. They are only rumours of the transfer market. I am fine here and I have never had such close relationships with everyone as at this moment.

"I have spoken with the president, he is the one who decides, and he reassured me by explaining the club's plans."

Scoring 14 goals in Serie A last term, Osimhen was a key figure for Napoli as they ended the season strongly, losing only three games before eventually finishing third behind Inter and champions Milan.

Although the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens have departed this window, the striker insisted he wants to keep working under Spalletti.

"He is a top coach," Osimhen said. "Every day he tries to motivate me and make me make the most of the potential I have. I think he is the ideal coach for me at this stage."

Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti has poured cold water on the prospect of Paulo Dybala's arrival amid reports the Argentina international is set to join Serie A rivals Roma.

The Partenopei will have sizeable voids to make up for, with Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens, Faouzi Ghoulam and David Ospina all following Lorenzo Insigne to the exit since the end of last season.

Napoli and Roma emerged as Dybala's likeliest destinations after talks with Inter broke down, with fans even voicing their displeasure towards Spalletti at the lack of transfer activity during an address as preparations for the new season continued over the weekend.

Speaking after his side's 4-1 friendly win against Perugia on Sunday, the 63-year-old said he believes Dybala's wage demands make him an unrealistic target, though the club will be looking to move as the dust settles elsewhere in the market.

"I read that there are several teams in for him, [but] he wants a high contract," Spalletti said. "And probably his demands are [too] high for the moment for a club who has to think about it.

"Certainly we are thinking of some integration of the squad, but the market tells us that many moves will be made at the last moment given the long period in which negotiations take place.

"It is clear that the fans want to see quality. We have only one means at our disposal, that of showing personality and technique when we enter the field."

Koulibaly, who signed for Chelsea on Saturday, might not be the last player to leave Naples before the start of the season, with Victor Osimhen and Matteo Politano also linked to moves elsewhere.

Spalletti tried to remove polemics from their respective situations, insisting they will flourish at Napoli if they stay.

"Victor has to find the best condition, but we know what his great potential is and we will work to bring out his qualities," he said.

"If Politano remains and gives us his important contribution like last year, we are all happy."

Luciano Spalletti said Napoli "will never stop thanking" Kalidou Koulibaly should he depart for Chelsea, as reports suggested the Senegal captain was edging closer to a move.

Koulibaly has made 236 Serie A appearances since joining Napoli from Belgian outfit Genk in 2014, including 27 as the Partenopei finished third last season.

Napoli vice president Edoardo De Laurentiis admitted he was unsure why Koulibaly was yet to extend his contract with the club last week, and reports on Tuesday suggested he could be set for a move to the Premier League.

Chelsea are reportedly locked in negotiations to seal a €40million (£33.7m) move for the 31-year-old, who has just one year remaining on his deal in Naples, and Spalletti says he will harbour no ill-will towards the defensive colossus if he departs.

"I always remain of the same opinion. I always prefer Koulibaly to everyone," Spalletti said, during a question-and-answer session with fans. 

"It is easy for me because he, as a Napoli player, is the one who has the highest average points. When he was on the pitch, we scored more points. 

"Should he choose to go, we will never stop thanking him for everything he taught us and for everything he gave us to make us play in the Champions League this year. 

"He is very good, very strong. This year he would also be captain [if he chose to stay].

"If he will choose different things, we will wish him the best because he deserves it all, and woe to anyone who will tell him something if he has to make different choices."

Koulibaly's departure would be a significant blow for Napoli, who have already lost Lorenzo Insigne on a free transfer during the off-season, with the Italy star heading to Major League Soccer side Toronto FC.

And Spalletti says Napoli are assessing all options as they look to improve their squad: "We are making evaluations. We have lost [Dries] Mertens [who is yet to agree a contract renewal], Insigne and [David] Ospina. 

"For the others there are possibilities, so we don't know. These players are important references, but we have very strong young people who can become leaders of this team."

One player to have been strongly linked with Napoli is former Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, who remains a free agent after departing the Turin giants at the end of his contract last month.

"Who knows? The ways of the lord are infinite," De Laurentiis quipped when asked whether Napoli could target the Argentine on Sunday, and Spalletti says he admires the 28-year-old.

"Many like Dybala because he has the qualities to give solutions to a team," he added. "He is a player who has imagination, inspiration, a great foot, takes set pieces very well, scores goals. 

"We would try to make him grow a little bit. He's perfect in the way of being a strong team player."

Luciano Spalletti hit out at the media coverage surrounding Napoli after his side cruised to a 6-1 thrashing of Sassuolo on Saturday.

Napoli saw their Scudetto hopes crushed as a second-half collapse allowed Empoli victory last week, but Spalletti's side raced out the blocks against Sassuolo as Kalidou Koulibaly, Victor Osimhen and Hirving Lozano struck.

The rapid start saw Napoli net three times within the first 20 minutes of a Serie A match for the first time since May 2009 before Dries Mertens added a double either side of the interval.

Amir Rrahmani then turned home with the hosts claiming a 6-1 win after Maxime Lopez's late consolation goal.

But Spalletti was in no mood for celebrating after Napoli all but secured Champions League qualification, sitting 12 points clear of fifth-placed Roma, who have four games to play.

The Napoli coach questioned the reporting by the media after speculation persisted over his future following the disappointing defeat to Empoli.

"Being almost mathematically certain of Champions League football with three rounds to spare was not an easy target. Having said that, there are some regrets," he told reporters.

"I was the one who talked about the Scudetto to raise the bar, but winning a game in today's atmosphere, with part of the crowd protesting, is something that disappoints me considering all the players have done this season.

"It almost feels like it's a success to be where Roma, Atalanta or Lazio are, but Napoli are treated as a failure.

"Who has doubts about me? A journalist who has no ideas and decides to fill up space by going back to find problems from years ago, back to Francesco Totti, Mauro Icardi and who knows what else.

"I see bad faith in some reporting around me and Napoli. You are trying to obscure the great result of Champions League qualification by making it all about the Scudetto.

"It's true we dropped points against Empoli, but just as true that we have achieved things with Napoli this season. The team did not deserve to play in this atmosphere."

Spalletti is aiming to continue building at Napoli even if he is to lose some of his star players after impressing this season.

"This season told us a lot, now we have more material available and we have created a showcase for many players," he added.

"At the beginning of the season the president talked about having to lower the salary, there were not many proposals, now many are interested in the transfer market and I'm happy with this.

"These players here deserve showcases and deserve to be in the sights of other important clubs such as Napoli."

Luciano Spalletti insisted he must swallow the blame for Napoli's collapse against Empoli that all but ended their Scudetto hopes.

The evergreen Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne fired Spalletti's visitors into a 2-0 lead at Stadio Carlo Castellani before Napoli succumbed to a spectacular comeback.

Liam Henderson pulled one back in the 80th minute before a double from Inter loanee Andrea Pinamonti capped a remarkable turnaround to leave Napoli, who have played a game more, five points behind Serie A leaders Inter.

That made Empoli just the third team in Serie A history to win after trailing by two goals after 79 minutes, after Inter versus Sampdoria in January 2005, and Sampdoria against Sassuolo in November 2016.

It also marked the first time Napoli have lost an Italian top-flight match after leading by two goals since March 1942, a 5-3 reverse against Torino.

Spalletti's side entered the game sitting four points behind second-placed Milan, who were due in action at Lazio later on Sunday, and the head coach believes he should take much of the criticism for Napoli's frail mentality.

He told DAZN after the game: "I can only take note of what happens. Clearly, imagining an end to the game like that was difficult, but when you don't have the right intensity and concentration...

"We made a few too many mistakes, lost the ball too cheaply. Inevitably, the coach has to shoulder much of the blame for the attitude and consistency. The responsibility lies with the coach."

Goalkeeper Alex Meret was largely at fault for Pinamonti's leveller, his lapse in concentration allowing the striker to pounce and equalise, and Spalletti appreciates the error allowed Empoli a way back into the game.

"It depends on what you build day by day, the attitude that is consolidated, being focused, attentive. Something evidently went wrong," the coach added.

"When we talk about an error like that, some fear sets in and the opponents can take advantage. Even if Empoli hadn't won for a while, they played good football. These things can happen in football and it happened.

"It's important for us to keep possession because our characteristics are not suited to a physical contest. Even then, it didn't seem to be a battle to that level to become unsustainable for these players."

Individual mistakes aside, Spalletti reiterated he must take much of the blame for the second-half performance as he brought his own future into question.

"I am responsible for this team, for their attitude, their approach, so I take the consequences for what happens on the field," Spalletti said.

"Much of it has to be my fault. We've been working together for almost a year, there ought to be a mentality and reaction coming from my work with these players.

"We were challenging for the Scudetto, as everyone said, we had the qualities to challenge for the Scudetto, but if the level is this, I cannot avoid being called into question."

Jose Mourinho said he was "ashamed" by the officiating of Roma's 1-1 Serie A draw at Napoli, believing the hosts should have conceded a penalty and had a man sent off.

Mourinho also appeared to suggest teams fighting for the Serie A title were being favoured by officials in a post-match outburst, after Stephan El Shaarawy's last-minute goal sealed a valuable point for the Giallorossi.

Roma trailed for 80 minutes in Naples after Lorenzo Insigne netted his eighth penalty of the season, the highest tally among players in Europe's top five leagues this season.

But El Shaarawy's 91st-minute strike kept Roma within five points of fourth-placed Juventus, and represented the winger's third last-minute goal of the Serie A season, more than any other player.

Mourinho, however, vented his frustration at the officials.

"There are teams that play to win the Scudetto, we don't," Mourinho told DAZN. "But we still have the right to play to win games, regardless of the opponent we face, whether it's a team fighting for the Scudetto or one already relegated. 

"Today it seemed that we did not have the right to play to win. [VAR] Mr Di Paolo, not to mention [referee] Mr Di Bello made me feel ashamed at least twice, the red to [Napoli defender Alessandro] Zanoli which was not given, and for the penalty not given to [Roma attacker Nicolo] Zaniolo. 

"Luckily they [the officials] found nothing in our goal to nullify it. But enough, I ask for a little respect. 

"Unfortunately, we weren't good at the beginning [of the season] and now we cannot fight to win the Scudetto, but I want to have the right to play to win games."

Mourinho celebrated wildly when El Shaarawy equalised, and expressed his pride at Roma extending their unbeaten run to 12 Serie A matches.

"I rejoiced at El Shaarawy's goal because during the match it seemed impossible to get out of here with a positive result," Mourinho said.

"We played very well, and we grew during the game. My team was fantastic, these guys fill me with pride. After Thursday's game [against Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League] the field today looked like Everest to us. But great quality, character, incredible physical and mental condition. We wanted more, but we did what we could."

For Napoli, the last-gasp leveller represented a severe blow to their hopes of a first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona era, and head coach Luciano Spalletti conceded that a return of one point from their last two matches was not up to scratch.

Spalletti, though, drew attention to Mourinho's behaviour on the touchline. 

"From the first minute I tell my bench to behave well," Spelletti said. "Even today, we have all been seated on the bench. 

"Other teams seem to play at home, they jump on everyone, I'm not just talking about Roma, I'm talking in general. We sit down and let the referees do the work they have to do."

Napoli and Roma have drawn both their matches in a single Serie A campaign for the first time since the 1994-95 season, having played out a goalless draw last October.

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti conceded the race for the Scudetto was no longer in his side's hands after they fell to a 3-2 loss to Fiorentina.

Dries Mertens cancelled out Nico Gonzalez's first-half opener at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, before Jonathan Ikone and Arthur Cabral put the visitors two goals to the good.

Victor Osimhen pulled one back in the closing stages for Spalletti's side, but his efforts were ultimately in vain as Napoli succumbed to their sixth league loss this season, five of which came at home.

The defeat leaves them level on points with defending champions Inter, who have played a game fewer, and two behind Serie A leaders Milan ahead of the Rossoneri facing Torino on Sunday evening.

With that deficit in mind, a visibly disappointed Spalletti acknowledged to DAZN that the race for the Serie A title was now out of Napoli's control, and they would need favours from others to win a first Scudetto since 1990.

"Yes [it changes the title race], now everything is getting harder," he said. 

"We have no choice but to be professional. Now, we think about winning the next game, even if now it depends on others and not on us."

The Italian also believes the "costly" loss to Fiorentina was undeserved.

"This is a very costly defeat and in some ways undeserved," he added. "Fiorentina played their game and earned the win, but we started strong, then tried to play too long and allowed them to take control of midfield.

"When we conceded the second goal, it all became far more difficult. We have to take some blame for what happened, but it's so disappointing because the fans, the attitude of the whole team throughout the week was the right one."

As for Napoli's disappointing home record, Spalletti claims he does not see a pattern within their home reverses, which he said should be evaluated separately.

"The matches must be evaluated game-by-game," he added.

"I don't see anything similar to the other games, I don't see a sure problem."

Napoli will look to make amends when they host Roma in Serie A on Monday, after Fiorentina became the first side to beat them twice on their own turf in one season since Lazio in 2014-15 (Fiorentina also eliminated Napoli from the Coppa Italia in Naples).

Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti has said his team understands they are "playing for the happiness of a city" after an impressive 3-1 victory away to Atalanta put them level on points with Serie A leaders Milan.

A penalty from Lorenzo Insigne and a Matteo Politano free-kick saw the Naples side 2-0 up at half-time, only for Marten de Roon to halve the deficit just before the hour mark at Gewiss Stadium.

However, a well-taken goal on the counter-attack from Elif Elmas late on after neat work from Hirving Lozano was enough to secure the three points and give Napoli their third league win in a row.

The victory means Spalletti's men are on 66 points, the same as leaders Milan though having played a game more, with the Rossoneri hosting Bologna on Monday.

"We have come out of difficult situations this season, but at this point here, there is no turning back," Spalletti told DAZN after the win.

"We suffered again today, at the beginning of both halves, [but] the team began to turn and even when Atalanta responded, the team did not disunite, on the contrary, we went in search of the third goal, which shows how we have grown."

 

Napoli, who were missing star striker Victor Osimhen, have now scored eight penalties in a single Serie A campaign for the first time since they returned to the top-flight (from 2007/08).

It is their away record that has kept them in the race for the Scudetto, having now won 11 and lost just one of their 16 games on the road (D4).

However, Spalletti also acknowledged their home form, which has been less impressive, winning nine and losing four of their 15 games at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona (D2).

"There is still a long way to go, because we have lost too many points at home and we cannot let our guard down," he added.

"What these guys have understood is that they are playing for the happiness of a city."

Luciano Spalletti was delighted to have quietened Napoli's critics after Fabian Ruiz's 94th-minute strike saw off Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico and propelled the visitors to the Serie A summit.

After Lorenzo Insigne had opened the scoring, Pedro's superb late volley looked to have denied Napoli a crucial victory, only for Fabian to curl in a brilliant last-gasp winner to put Spalletti's men ahead in an enthralling title race.

Napoli's return of 18 points from their eight league matches in 2022 is the best in Serie A, as they bid for a first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona era, while the late goal condemned Lazio to just their second home defeat of the league campaign.

Spalletti, who joined in with his players' wild celebrations after the goal, said after the contest Napoli deserved the victory, but he seemed more concerned with quietening those who have criticised his men.

"I think overall the team deserved the victory," he told DAZN.

"I want to underline that everyone keeps moaning that this team doesn't have character, it's soft, it's sluggish; I want to hear them say that now.

"This team definitely has character. We lost to Barcelona [4-2 in Naples] after getting a result at Camp Nou, it was my fault because I told them to take that approach.

"I see an ugly atmosphere around this team, people trying to say we lack character. I want to see them say that now.

"We got knocked down, we got straight back on our feet again and poured forward to find the winner. I don’t think it's a bad thing to say this was a deserved victory." 

Fabian has now scored the most goals from outside the box in this Serie A this season, with all six of his strikes coming from range. Moreover, the midfielder has now netted as many goals this term as he did in the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 campaigns combined.

Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti believes Barcelona still "have the same quality" without Lionel Messi, and has also drawn comparisons between Victor Osimhen and Diego Maradona.

Spalletti's side host Barca on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League knockout round play-off, with the tie finely poised following a 1-1 draw in the first leg, which was the Blaugrana's first appearance in Europe's secondary competition since the 2003-04 season.

In those 18 years in between, Barca have lifted the Champions League four times, with Messi playing a starring role as he amassed 672 goals across 778 appearances in all competitions.

The Argentina international departed on a free transfer at the end of last season for Paris Saint-Germain amid well-documented financial complications at Camp Nou, but Spalletti does not think Xavi's new-look side are any worse off without the forward.

He told reporters at Wednesday's pre-match news conference: "Barcelona are really strong. They had Leo Messi, but they have the same quality now, with great players everywhere on the pitch. 

"Our target is to have a team that will remain in the fans' minds. We must fight. 

"Those who fight can lose, but who doesn't even fight has lost already. We need to take risks, command and show what we want to do, otherwise they'll force us to defend deep.

"It will be a tough game, we'll have to be like soldiers in a video game. A battle to conquer a position. Earn space, or you'll be shot and die."

Spalletti suggested before the first leg that Napoli and Barcelona legend Maradona would be looking down hoping his former Italian side can secure victory.

The Italian head coach referenced the Argentine great again, this time suggesting he could see similarities between his star forward Osimhen and Maradona.

"With that header against Cagliari, he proved to have a sort of animal fury which is much-needed in key moments," he added on Osimhen, who scored a late equaliser in his last outing.

"Maradona had the same thing and somebody else should have it in our team. 

"You can see Osimhen has it when he faces his opponents. He has outstanding characteristics and some extra qualities that are not easy to find in other players.

"We can become a team worthy or Maradona. He liked spectacular football and I am sure he'd like to see it tomorrow."

Luciano Spalletti believes Diego Maradona will be looking down on his two former teams and hoping Napoli beat Barcelona on Thursday.

In the pick of the Europa League knockout round play-off ties, the Partenopei face Barca home and away over the next week.

The Blaugrana dropped into UEFA's secondary competition for the first time since 2003-04 following their elimination from the Champions League in a tough start to the season.

The Catalan side have recovered a little momentum under Xavi, however, and present a major test for Spalletti's Napoli, who are third in Serie A.

But this fixture – only previously played in the last 16 of the 2019-20 Champions League – will always be associated far more with Maradona than any modern star.

The Argentina great moved to Napoli after two years with Barca in the 1980s, enjoying the best spell of his career over seven seasons in Italy.

Twice a league champion with Napoli, Spalletti suggested on the eve of the match the late Maradona would favour his club.

Asked about injury issues in both camps, the Napoli coach said: "I don't think there will be a disadvantage for the absence of a player.

"The two squads are so well equipped that the absence of one player and the presence of another does not make a difference.

"There would be one that could make a difference, but he will watch this game from heaven.

"I am talking about Maradona, who will initially try to be 'good', but then I am convinced he will take a position and cheer for Napoli."

Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti will not be present on the touchline against Juventus after testing positive for COVID-19.

Spalletti's side have been ravaged by coronavirus issues over the mid-season break, leaving them somewhat short-handed for the trip to Turin on Thursday.

To make matters worse for the Naples outfit, their boss Spalletti returned a positive result for the virus on Tuesday that will keep him away from the Allianz Stadium as he heads into self-isolation.

On the same day, Napoli announced Mario Rui and fellow full-back Kevin Malcuit were isolating, while Andrea Petagna came into close contact with a positive case but was later given the all-clear.

That trio joins a host of stars within the Napoli ranks who will be absent for the clash with Massimiliano Allegri's side due to COVID-19 issues.

Hirving Lozano, who has featured in all of Napoli's 25 games in all competitions this term, was confirmed as unavailable last Tuesday after contracting the virus while back in Mexico.

Talisman Victor Osimhen, Fabian Ruiz and Eljif Elmas, all of whom are regular starters for the Serie A outfit, are also among the notable absentees ahead of the visit to the Bianconeri.

Reports in Italy suggest due to the ongoing situation at the club and across the country, the game could still yet be called off if local health authorities order Napoli to quarantine.

That would ban Spalletti's team from travelling to Juve and cancel the meeting between the two sides who sit third and fifth in Serie A respectively.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli claimed his side did not deserve to lose against Napoli, dismissing any suggestion the Rossoneri's fitness levels have dropped.

Napoli headed to San Siro having lost consecutive league games but were ahead inside five minutes when Eljif Elmas managed his first league goal since early November – Napoli scoring their quickest top-flight goal against Milan since November 2012.

Visiting goalkeeper David Ospina was rarely called upon in a somewhat sedate affair, though Franck Kessie saw a stoppage-time finish ruled out by VAR for offside against Olivier Giroud, who was on the floor in the build-up to the midfielder's opportunity.

Napoli held on for back-to-back league clean sheets against Milan for the first time since 2015, as Luciano Spalletti's team leapfrogged Milan to move into second on goal difference, the pair four points back from leaders Inter.

However, Pioli – without a win against Spalletti in nine league meetings – believes his side's performance did not warrant a loss as he refuted suggestions Milan might be flagging in terms of fitness.

"We are not tired, we proved it tonight [Sunday]," Pioli told DAZN. "Yes we can play with more quality, certainly, but we played a game from the point of view of intensity and energy among the best in the league.

"From a physical and willpower point of view, the team were pleasing in every way. We missed the last step.

"But there are the regrets, such as the goal conceded and the balls lost. We played almost always in the Napoli half, we played a real, serious and energetic game. We are lacking a bit of quality at the moment, but the team didn't deserve to lose. The data is very close in victories and defeats, the team had a balanced performance.

"The important numbers that we take into consideration are the acceleration and deceleration; the numbers are more or less those from the start of the season. The coach's eyes are also important, and the team didn't do badly tonight."

 

Pioli's team would have been heading into the final Serie A matchday of 2021, when they visit Empoli on Wednesday, in second place if Kessie's late strike had not been ruled out.

The Milan head coach, who was pictured by television cameras among the celebrations near Napoli's goal for the apparent equaliser, accepted the decision – but still expressed confusion as to how Giroud was adjudged to be involved in the play.

"I know that in the end they will say that the ruling is right, but I ask how does a player on the ground, who does nothing to intervene, how does he cause damage to the defender? Giroud does nothing to intervene," Pioli said.

"Now let's lick our wounds and try to do better for Wednesday."

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