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Manchester City 1 Napoli 1: match report

Read a full match report of Manchester City’s Champions League game against Napoli at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday 14 Sept, 2011.


Welcome to the Champions League, City. Welcome to the quality of counter-attacking opposition that lurks within. Welcome to a tough group that just got tougher.

If City are going to progress from Group A, Roberto Mancini’s players will need to avoid the sort of mistakes from Gareth Barry that allowed Napoli to race through the gears and take the lead through Edinson Cavani after 69 minutes. They will need more of the attacking endeavour that saw Sergio Agüero strike the bar in the build-up to their goal, a free-kick expertly swept in by Aleksandar Kolarov.

For City fans leaving the Etihad after their first taste of Champions League fare, the point will have felt as satisfying as the whole occasion, a night of noise, that famous anthem, some compelling end-to-end football and a reminder of how far they had come.

This was the night that City’s older supporters had been waiting for, a reward for their loyalty, for turning up even when their beloved team dropped into the third tier of English football scarcely 13 years ago, of games with Bournemouth, Macclesfield and York City. This was still a night when a few blue seats were visible, surprisingly so as this was a long-awaited opportunity to feast at club football’s top table.

In truth, Napoli enjoyed the night more, knowing that this was a good away point. With Bayern Munich defeating Villarreal, and looking to dominate Group A, it could prove an almighty fight for second place and Napoli will back themselves to secure it with this point, with this energy of counter-attacking movement in Cavani, Marek Hamsik and the excellent Ezequiel Lavezzi, and with such an intimidating home as the Stadio San Paolo. City have their work cut out.

Mancini has still assembled a squad good enough to progress. City’s manager has deepened his squad well, and he will need to call on such replenished resources as they face away games in the Premier League after each Champions League outing, including visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Nobody is making life easy for them.

The strength in depth was reflected by the attackers Mancini unleashed from the bench, Adam Johnson and Carlos Tévez, who gave City some late impetus. City will also play better than this, eschewing some of the over-elaboration in front of goal. They are still far more pleasing on the eye this season. From the opening whistle, City kept piecing together their passing moves, the ball spinning between the inventive feet of David Silva, Agüero and Samir Nasri, who signalled City’s attacking intent with a low shot just wide.

Edin Dzeko offered the focus atop Mancini’s 4-2-3-1 system. The Bosnian was quickly involved, soon fouled by Gokhan Inler, then failing with a free header from Nasri’s corner. Then Dzeko charged through the middle, exchanged passes with Agüero and shot wide.

Napoli were forced back, doggedly protecting their territory. This was also a reminder of the obduracy of back-lines City now have to break down. Napoli boasted a defence who used fair means and fouls to stop City. Silva went past Christian Maggio once, then again and was punished with a late challenge. Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica were soon in Jonas Eriksson’s book for fouls on Agüero.

The menace from the Italians was not merely physical; they broke upfield with pace and precision. With Yaya Touré, who started alongside Barry in deep midfield, pushing on frequently, City were worryingly open through the middle at times. They became stretched, allowing Lavezzi to cause frequent problems.

City needed to stiffen their resistance. Nigel de Jong is hardly the most glamorous figure in the City ensemble but they missed their midfield destroyer last night. In defence, Vincent Kompany, usually so reliable, will surely not make as many mistakes again; the Belgian was fortunate that Joleon Lescott maintained this season’s good form.

When Kompany slipped midway through the first half, Lavezzi advanced towards the box, just releasing his shot as Pablo Zabaleta slid in.

Lavezzi’s shot beat Joe Hart but not the crossbar and City fans breathed a sigh of relief. Silva, showing the variety of his game, then threw himself in the way of a Lavezzi shot.

City then enjoyed their best moment of the half, building quickly from the wreckage of a Napoli attack, Touré charging upfield before releasing Agüero. The little Argentine dummied Hugo Campagnaro, leaving his compatriot inspecting the turf. Agüero rolled the ball back to Touré, whose shot clipped the bar, a huge waste of a highly promising situation.

The game remained finely balanced as the second half progressed. Napoli were always a concern on the break for City. When Hamsik darted down the right, his cross was overhit until retrieved by Juan Zuniga.

The Colombian tricked his way past Zabaleta, and lifted in a cross to the far post which Hamsik met first time, his shot eluding Hart but not Kompany on the line.

Lescott crashed a header over from a Kolarov corner but City were mainly running down cul de sacs. When Barry dithered, Maggio sprinted through the untended middle, before sliding the ball down the inside-right channel to Cavani, whose low shot flew past Hart. Welcome to the Champions League indeed. One mistake 80 yards from goal gets punished in seconds.

City rallied well, Agüero turning Nasri’s cross on to the bar, the ball eventually finding its way to Zabaleta, who was fouled by Inler.

The right-of-centre position was perfect for the left foot of Kolarov. The Serb did not disappoint, sending the ball curling past the flat-footed Morgan de Sanctis. City fans partied but will hope there is no Group A hangover to this draw.

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