Thursday, November 2, 2017

MATCH NOTES / NAPOLI a


Neapolitan Metaphor. pic via @mcfcabroad
Would City be feted as some kind of immovable object or would they be found out by Maurizio Sarri's rampaging Napoli in their own bear pit San Paolo stadium?
In the end, after a really sticky start, this became a historic performance from City and not just because of Sergio Aguero's record breaking 178th strike.
This may well go down in the future as the night City confirmed their status as proper contenders for football’s greatest title. Scruffy little Manchester City imperious away from home at the Italian league leaders. Well, well, well.
Pushed and tested to the limit by a Napoli side that had plenty of guile, speed and accuracy, particularly from Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens down the left side, City came through the test with flying colours in an exemplary illustration of how to grow into a game. 
"City are the best team in Europe" - Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli
***

Sergio Aguero - 178 City goals
14 successive wins in all competitions
22 games unbeaten since the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal last season.
"City are the best team in Europe, led by the best manager in Europe" - Maurizio Sarri, Napoli manager

“I think it was the best Napoli I remember in the first 30 minutes" - Marek Hamsik, Napoli

"Defeating Napoli twice in two weeks is an incredible achievement. They're possibly the best side I’ve faced in my career." - Pep Guardiola
This is the first time City have won all four of their first Champions League group games.
This was City's second-ever win on Italian soil and Napoli's first-ever defeat on home territory to an English side.
Positives
Europe’s best passing team so far this season gained back control of a game that was beginning to look tricky to win through the aerial power of their centre halves. Relying on a more agricultural style to start with, once the wind had been knocked out of Napoli’s sails, City got the ball back on the ground and began to dominate possession. By the end, the readily recognisable short passing game was back in full flow and a home side which had been extremely threatening were reduced to chasing spaces. Make no bones about it, this was an extremely efficient Napoli side that has now been dismantled twice by Guardiola's men: some achievement. 
Negatives
From the start it was evident from Ederson, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones that City intended to play it long out of defence more often than is customary Goalkeepers and defenders were not shy to whack it long to clear lines, although, predictably, it did not clear the danger for long. This led to a rattled looking defence at times during the opening half hour and a goal attempts ratio of 7-2 in favour of the home side. This suited the gung-ho instinct of Nicolas Otamendi down to the ground as he launched into a series of critical blocks to staunch Napoli pressure.
Manager Rating out of 10
9 – Chose to make three critical changes to the line-up. Danilo in for Walker meant the defence had a more solid presence on the righjt side and a more permanent presence, as there was less bombing forward from the Brazilian. Gundogan for Silva worked less well, as De Bruyne looked lost without the playmaker alongside him, but being able to bring  Silva off the bench precisely when Napoli were flagging was a real boon for City and must have brought the curtain down on any chances Napoli thought they still had of getting back into the match. 
Ederson Morais, 9 – Early saves may have looked regular (a central high catch from Hamsik and a low dive to Mertens effort from wide left) but he was being asked to participate much more than usual. One kick out went awry on 52 minutes but the keeper was saved by an alert block (yet another one) from Otamendi to avert danger. Went the wrong way diving left for Jorginho’s softly-struck penalty to his right, but made an absolutely essential one handed save from Jose Callejon seconds before City’s break-away third goal. Happy to try the close passing out between attacking players as City gained confidence and was successful with several longer passes out to the flanks.
Danilo, 7 -- Brought calmness to the right side but had his hands full early on with Faouzi Gouhlam
Guardiola and Sarri: produced a feast of football
well advanced and Lorenzo Insigne creating havoc with his speed and close control. Blocked an Insigne effort after only 8 minutes, but lost possession dangerously with a poor ball out on 22 minutes. Lost his bearings quite badly for Napoli's opener and was turned inside out by Isigne when the little striker walloped the bar from 25 yards out.   
John Stones, 9 – Absolutely outstanding. Long ball to start with, signalling City's intent to clear lines more quickly. Nervous period under early pressure ended by terrific cut-out as near post corner threatened. Lost out to Mertens’ clever back heel for the Napoli opener, but stamped his authority on defensive possession from then on. Up high for the second City goal with an imperious header (having smacked the bar with another header in the 39th minute), he marshalled the backline like a latter-day Bobby Moore. Now has three goals in his last four Champions League games. Finished with impeccable dispossession of Mertens and a fly hack away when Ederson failed to advance quickly enough to a through ball. 
Nicolas Otamendi, 9 -- Hectic evening blocking everything that was thrown at him. Started with a confidence-inspiring block but then upended Mertens, whose quick feet had mesmerised him.   Headed in Gundogan’s far post cross for the first goal and thereafter stuck to his guns as Napoli attempted to swarm the City goal. Big header out to save Ederson's one failed clearance of the night. Getting his foot in time and time again as Napoli's attack became ragged. Finally booked for his troubles for a wild slice through substitute Ounas.   
Fabian Delph, 8 – If there was one player that had every right to feel slightly overawed by the company he was keeping, it was Delph, but the left back was the only one in the defence sticking to the short-passing game in the early stages and grew into a forceful and reliable presence down the left flank. Strong in the challenge, clever at making himself available in space to receive a pass to relieve pressure. Who would have thought it would come to this?  
Fernandinho, 8 -- Not able to impose himself during the early stages as Napoli flooded forward, but his clever use of ball and space began to shine through as City got a grip on proceedings. Liking for a tactical foul to slow things down when necessary also evident towards the end as Napoli's game got untidy and petulant.   
Leroy Sane, 7 – From the second minute, when he delayed a chance to shoot at goal, he was dogged by poor decision-making. He played his part in stretching the home side to bursting point down the left in the second half, however, with quick feet and blistering pace. Long run through the inside left channel for Aguero's goal, swirling free kick just over Reina's bar and a peach of a lay-off for Bernardo's left footed chace. Swapped for Gabriel Jesus on 89 minutes.
Raheem Sterling, 8 -- Fabulous night of direct running that scared the life out of the left side of Napoli’s defence. Three great runs saw him weave into the box only to be blocked in extremis as he was about to shoot. As early as the 4th minute he was to be seen slaloming through the tackles. Another superb run brought only a corner after 38 minutes, but he finally got his reward with a fine bit of instant control and wonderfully clinical finish for 4-2. Two possible penalty claims, one a right hand push, the other a handball, but this was a night to win it through skill and power, not via debatable pens. 
Ilkay Gundogan, 7 -- High up to start with to help press the defence, his forays were leaving Fernandinho a little exposed further back. Great shot deflected wide by desperate Koulibaly lunge and played the beautifully weighted left footed cross in for Otamendi’s headed equaliser. Replaced by David Silva on 70 minutes.  
Kevin de Bruyne, 7 -- Always going to be interesting to see how he fared without Silva and the answer was not long coming. Quiet to start with as he was left as the main midfield playmaker in a bit of a maelstrom start from the home side, but gradually came into it after the break. By the end was striding across the park and threaded a perfect pass to Sterling for the clincher at 4-2. Even managed a reducer on Insigne as he warmed to the challenge. 
Sergio Aguero, 7 -- So little space afforded by Koulibali for much of the game, but was there to pounce on Sane’s misfortune to put City in front at 3-2. Patience had paid off for City’s all-time record goal scorer. Earlier had missed a chance to equalise when his shot deflected wide and placed a flying header well wide too. Replaced by Bernardo on 74 minutes.    
Substitutes:
David Silva 8 -- On for Gundogan after 70 minutes and what a difference he made, finding space to slow things down and play in team mates with killer passes. Took no time at all to find his rhythm, the sign of the ultimate professional. Succulent reverse ball set Sane clear and did the same again for Sane’s run to set up Aguero’s goal.  Seemed to be immediately in his element, but a sign for the future that City did not manage the early stages of the game well without him.
Bernardo Silva, NR -- Arrived as a 74th minute replacement for Aguero and immediately went on the offensive, with a well struck left footer from Sane's lay-off saved at full stretch by Pepe Reina and a right footer over the bar, again from Sane’s clever feed .
Gabriel Jesus, NR – Replaced Sane as Guardiola wound down the clock on a wonderful City performance.


Pre-match: Sarri - "City are not invincible...."


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