Diawara scores but Napoli beaten
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola felt his side’s 2-1 Champions League win over Napoli was a “perfect” performance against a side he rates as one of the best he has ever faced.
Billed as an encounter between the two most scintillating attacking sides in Europe, the game lived up to the hype, with goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus earning an impressive City the victory.
Serie A leaders Napoli, who have won all eight of the games in the Italian top flight this season, were awarded two penalties in the game, with Ederson saving the first from Dries Mertens before Amadou Diawara scored the second.
“Today we won against an incredible team and to do that you have to make an incredible performance. If we hadn’t played at a very high level, we wouldn’t have won that game,” said Guardiola.
“They are one of the best teams I have ever faced, which is why I am so proud. It was perfect. It is impossible to beat them if you don’t make a good performance, and we did it, which is why I am so happy.
“I know before the game and now I know again, I am pretty sure they are one of the best teams in Europe at this moment.”
City have now won 10 successive matches in all competitions, matching their previous best run under Guardiola at the start of last season.
Their desire to play out from the back almost cost them on a couple of occasions but they held out for a win that leaves them top of Group F, three points clear of Shakhtar Donetsk, who won 2-1 at Feyenoord.
City underline their improvement
In his programme notes for Tuesday’s game, City boss Pep Guardiola insisted that his job was to win games, not entertain. At the moment, he is doing both.
Few teams have been able to live with Guardiola’s team this season, with only Everton denying them victory courtesy of a 1-1 Premier League draw back in August.
Since then, the Premier League leaders have netted 36 times over 10 straight wins in all competitions, scoring four at Feyenoord, five against Liverpool and Palace and six at Watford before putting seven past Stoke on Saturday in what Guardiola described as the finest display in his time at the club.
Tuesday’s win may arguably be their most impressive result this campaign, coming against opponents who have won all eight of their league fixtures this season as part of a club record 13 successive league wins dating back to last campaign.
Some of their passing and attacking play was a joy to behold, resulting in the two early goals, with Sterling finishing into a largely unguarded net after Kyle Walker’s shot had been blocked before Jesus tapped home from the brilliant De Bruyne’s pinpoint low cross.
The second-half was more even, with Napoli demonstrating some of the attacking verve that has seen them dominate the Italian top-flight this season.
But despite occasionally over-playing at the back, City’s late resilience matched their brilliance from earlier in the game.
|Man City v Napoli records 2017-18|
|Domestic league pos.||1st||1st|
Napoli miss their chances
“Almost impossible to win” was how Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis described his club’s game at City, suggesting that they rest players in order to focus on Saturday’s opponents Inter Milan.
However, coach Maurizio Sarri fielded the starting XI largely responsible for their impressive start to this campaign, including Belgium striker Mertens, the scorer of nine of the 34 goals they had amassed in 12 fixtures prior to their trip to the Etihad.
Had Mertens opted for precision as opposed to power with his spot-kick, awarded for Walker’s foul on Raul Albiol, he could well have provided the impetus for his side to battle back.
Equally, Marek Hamsik was presented with a golden chance of his own after a mis-placed pass gave him a near open goal, but a diving block from John Stones denied him amid howls of handball from Sarri on the touchline.
Diawara showed them the way by slotting in after Faouzi Ghoulam had been tripped by Fernandinho in the area with 17 minutes to go, but they were unable to capitalise on their momentum.
‘They could go all the way’ – what they said
Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri, when asked if City can win the Champions League this season: “Yes, I think so.
“They are an extraordinary squad. They have tremendous physical, technical and tactical qualities and if they can maintain their physical shape they could go all the way.
“You have to divide the game into first 25 minutes and then the rest of the game. They deserve a lot of credit for how they started the game – their technique, speed and movement were outstanding – but also, we didn’t apply enough pressure.
“But credit to the team for coming out of that situation against a team that is destroying everything that is put in front of it.”
Manchester City defender John Stones: “They had a lot of runners in behind. We knew they played patient football and had attacking threat. We knew it would be tough but we wanted to play our football. At times it was great to watch. I am upset to concede the goal we did but overall it was a great team performance.
“We have put ourselves in a good position. There are a lot of games to play still. This was a good test to see where we are at.”
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Ten on the trot – the stats you need to know
- City have won their opening three games of a European tournament for the first time since 2008/09 (in the Uefa Cup), however this is the first time they’ve achieved it in the Champions League
- The Citizens have also won three consecutive home games in the Champions League for the first time, and are now unbeaten in their last 11 overall (W8 D3)
- Guardiola’s side have the best goal difference of any team in the top five European leagues in all competitions this season (+33)
- City’s starting XI tonight was their youngest in the Champions League under Guardiola (26y 73d), and their youngest in the competition overall since October 2012 (25y 309d v Borussia Dortmund)
City host Burnley in the Premier League on Saturday. They resume Champions League action with the return game against Napoli on Wednesday, 1 November.