The Ped intoEurope Report.. Napoli 2-4 City
What a night, what a match. Let`s make no mistake as to the significance of this exceptional result brought about by exceptional football purveyed by Manchester City in Napoli last evening.
Billed in terms of the old Turkish adage of "Welcome to Hell", there is no doubt that Pep Guardiola had his troops fully briefed for this one and ready to do battle in Italy`s most hostile stadium, at least as far as visiting teams are concerned.
At the Etihad, Napoli performed in similar vein to City, with a brand of exciting football that had "danger" written all over it and it was this that City would have to overcome in the Italians` own back yard. They overcame it in some style and with some panache to ensure their qualification to the knock-out stages of the competition, where most teams will be hoping that the hot-balling, Stretford-loving, faceless gnomes of Nyon won`t be pairing City`s ball with their`s.
The gloves were off from the start in this one as each team took turns to attack. But it was first blood to the hosts as they attacked down their left and executed a give-and-go that wouldn`t have looked out of place if it was City and Insigne who started it with an inside pass to Mertens, finished it with a comfortable strike that gave Ederson no chance.
Napoli were to lose City target Ghoulam, the catalyst for much of Napoli`s play down the left, shortly thereafter and although they will point to that as a bit of a turning point, City simply turned on the afterburners and upped the ante.
It was important for City to get back on terms as quickly as possible and although it took a little while the equaliser came from the unlikely source of Otamendi, another who looks like a different footballer this season.
De Bruyne took the corner on City`s right, bringing in the impressive Gundogan whose pinpoint cross found Otamendi who headed home the leveller on 33 minutes.
City were now easing through the gears and the runaway train had arrived at the San Paolo Stadium. Stones hit the bar, Otamendi might have added another and Aguero, playing slightly deeper was hovering like a hornet looking for anything to convert. It was all-square at the break of an exhiliarating match, a result City could live with and one that would see them progress in the competition.
But Guardiola had said he was not coming for a draw, despite the distractions of a vociferous crowd that howled and whistled its way through the match and an opposition well capable of excellent football. As the second half began, Sterling wriggled his way past the scythes and sickles and was unlucky with his final shot which didn`t miss by much.
A minute later City won a corner on the left and Sane`s amazing delivery found the head of the late-inrushing Stones and the rest was left to goal-line technology, or at least those useless 5th officials deployed by UEFA. This time however they did spot that Stones header had gone a yard over the line off the underside of the bar and despite the efforts of Reina to deny the decision, City were in front with 2 goals from their central defenders.
Napoli now needed to try to restore order. In danger of elimination following their unexpected defeat at Donetsk, it was time for them to step up to the plate and their brand of flowing, precision football competed with City`s.
On the hour Ederson was tested and responded with an excellent tip-over allowing a corner for Napoli. In the ensuing melee, Sane turned from Saint to sinner, needlessly hacking, a little late at Albiol, giving the referee an easy decision.
City have not been too grateful to penalty takers in this competition. Only one of the last seven has found its way into the net, that being at the Etihad in the reverse fixture a couple of weeks ago.
Jorginho`s spot kick, however, was a clever one as he put Ederson in one corner and the ball neatly in the other. Game on again.
Both teams went in search of the winner and chances fell at both ends but within seven minutes City found themselves in front again, but not before Ederson made the save of the match tipping over another close-range effort in great style.
City immediately retuned play to the other end. Fernandinho deep in the City half released Sane on half-way, his sprint opening the doors. When the tackle came about 25 yards out the ball rebounded left where Sergio Aguero was lurking to gather, sprint and drill home from just inside the box to write himself into the City history books as the undisputed top scorer for the club, finally eclipsing Eric Brook`s 77 year old record. A fantastic achievement by the Mighty Atom.
This was a truly exceptional finish by Kun Aguero and from the visitors section came the iconic "You signed Phil Jones, we signed Kun Aguero" in a tribute to a man that could easily have been tempted by offers from elsewhere but who has selected for what, for 6 years now to ply his trade in the most demanding of football environments.
Napoli still didn`t look a beaten team but by now City were in complete control of the fixture and their brand of sensational football was being stamped all over the San Paolo and as the game moved into the last minute of the four added, it was perhaps telling that City were not resting on their laurels.
A surging run by De Bruyne from centre to inside left set up play. An intelligent run out to the left by de Jesus split the cover and Sterling`s sprint to the other side was easily detected by the laser-eyed Belgian who slipped the ball into Sterling`s path and he slammed it past Reina to make it 4-2. It`s ten goals now this season for Raheem and he too is starting to look the business.
This was a masterclass performance by Manchester City. It was a match where pretty much every player reached 9/10. John Stones was simply superb at the back and the front, Ederson no doubt adding much to his change of confidence. It took De Bruyne a while to get going, but when he did he was devastating. But maybe it was Sane who created much of the disturbance in the Napoli ranks. His pace and power caused the Italians problems all night and this is not the kind of team that generally conclude opposition attacks by chopping down the danger man at every opportunity.
Another win it is. Another win in a dangerous stadium against a very dangerous side. City sit proud at the head of their qualifying group with the letter "Q" already against their name. The Europa League`s finest, Arsenal come to town at the weekend and we owe them one.