Benitez: Champions League qualification is Napoli's priority

The 53-year-old maintains his side's objective is a top-three finish in Serie A this season and has hit back at criticism of his rotation policy

Napoli boss Rafa Benitez has insisted that Champions League qualification remains his priority after his side's 3-0 defeat to Atalanta on Sunday.

The San Paolo outfit slipped 15 points behind Serie A leaders Juventus after a German Denis-inspired home side all but put an end to the Partenopei's title hopes in Bergamo.

Napoli suffered an agonising exit from this season's Champions League after finishing just behind Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the group stage, and Benitez is adamant a return to Europe's elite remains the objective for his side this season - despite their hopes for success in the Europa League and Coppa Italia.

"The Champions League is our priority, so we have to qualify," Benitez told reporters. "We can also try to win something this year, though, so I am trying to manage the squad."

The former Liverpool coach has faced criticism from fans and the media for his rotation policy ahead of the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg against Roma, but the 53-year-old has hit back at his detractors.

"If we lose it is not because of a different formation, but it is the players that make the difference," he continued. "The coach's value is about 20 per cent. Whatever can be changed and gained is done so because he has the squad to do it with.

"Sometimes you have to take risks, when you have a squad that does not have the options others do. I accept the criticism, but I work my own way.

"We have to manage the squad. We have to make choices, make changes. If we win then everything is alright and if we do not, it's my fault.

"But we have to do this. [Faouzi] Ghoulam, Jorginho and Henrique will help us in this. I remember a game [at Valencia] when I took off Vicente and [Pablo] Aimar, I was killed for it, but we won the league."

Benitez's side visit the capital for the first leg of their Coppa Italia clash on Wednesday, and the former Chelsea boss believes Rudi Garcia's men - who sit six points clear of the Partenopei in the league table, with a game in hand - have benefitted from better luck with injuries this season.

"The championship is important, but we are in the semi-finals of the cup and will try to get to the final," he added.

"It may be that we were better at the start of the season. Why have Roma not suffered in the same way? We have had five injuries, which have been important. Not two, but five long term!

"Certainly we need to play more vertically when the space is there, be better on counter-attacks, with possession and this is kept in mind when we work."