Napoli gave in 1-2 to Manchester City in the Champions League Group F third round, but left Etihad Stadium with their heads held high. Maurizio Sarri’s boy can regret at a failed penalty by Dries Mertens, after Jose Guardiola’s Citizens had hit hard with a quick one-two, and before Amadou Diawara reopened the match by converting a second penalty kick.
But more than the score itself, which leaves Napoli’s chances to qualify to the second stage unchanged, the trending topic in the next days will be the conditions of Lorenzo Insigne. The scugnizzo (Home-grown “street boy”) was pulled out at 56’ by coach Sarri after an injury, and left the pitch limping: A possible muscular sprain is no good news in view of next Saturday’s decisive Serie A match against Inter.
For the grand gala between the two teams that have been showing the best football in Europe in these early seasonal rounds, Sarri showed his willingness to preserve some forces for the upcoming big match. The Neapolitan coach operated a mini-turnover, lining up Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski in place of Brazilian midfield duo Jorginho and Alllan Marques.
Too bad that his squad seemed to take the input too seriously, and totally missed the approach to the game – or were rather caught by surprise by Guardiola’s frantic early assault. The Citizens hit Napoli with the same violence that Hurricane Ophelia is discharging on the UK, and jumped to 2-0 in less than 15 minutes with goals by Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling. Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne hit a post, then Kalidou Koulibaly cleared a ball on the goal line to deny Gabriel Jesus a brice. For the first 30 minutes, Napoli was simply non-existing.
Dries Mertens got the chance to bring his teammates back into the game, when a foul in the box by Kyle Walker sent him to the penalty spot – but the Belgian winger delivered a weak central shot, for Man City goalkeeper Ederson’s easy save.
Half time came as a relief for Neapolitans to reorganize themselves, and indeed the team that came back to the grass of Etihad after the break was a different one. Actually, you don’t want to leave a bad impression in a stadium where supporters sing Hey, Jude! during half time (chilling, but this is Manchester, not Liverpool!) and players are sent back to the pitch on the notes of Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim…
As Napoli restarted with more aggressiveness and reversed the trend of ball possession, Manchester City’s confidence turned into a little bit of arrogance – with one-touch combinations close to their box involving even goalkeeper Ederson. City’s defenders risked to screw up with their British-sauce defensive tiki taka in a couple of occasions – with John Stones producing a desperate slide to deflect a shot by Marek Hamsik.
A few minutes earlier, Lorenzo Insigne had to leave the pitch for a possible muscular injury. Sarri sent in Allan Marques to replace him. It’s too soon to evaluate the conditions of the Neapolitano folletto, but his presence in the upcoming league match against Inter is at risk at the very least. Elsed Hysaj also had to call it quit in advance after his head bumped into David Silva’s, but the Albanian right back should still make it for Saturday.
Napoli’s efforts paid off at 73’, when Faouzi Gholam cut through City’s defense and was knocked down by an ingenuous Fernandinho. Amadou Diawara took the responsibility of converting the second penalty, and he didn’t disappoint – sending Napoli to 1-2. With 17 minutes still to play, teams didn’t pull in and kept attempting at changing the scorecard: A free kick by De Bruyne called Pepe Reina to a save, then Mertens tried a lob shot to catch Ederson far from his goal line, but narrowly missed the target.
Guardiola’s boys controlled the game until the end, and basically ended up making full score thanks to their initial 15 flawless minutes. Nonetheless, Napoli did pass the test and, had they gotten into the game with a different mindset, they could have snatched at least one point – even more important, considering that Shakhtar Donestsk beat Feyenoord in the other match of Group F.
But one could objectively not ask for more to the Partenopei, who were just out of a gruesome away match in Rome, and will need to face next Saturday’s showdown with the Nerazzurri with pretty much the same lineup as tonight. That game will tell much about the real possibilities for Maurizio Sarri to bring the Scudetto back to Napoli after 27 years. From that point of view, a narrow defeat in Manchester is more than acceptable.
Oh, and the last song heard at Etihad Stadium right after the final whistle was Wonderwall by Manchester-based Oasis. Now everything is in its place.
MANCHESTER CITY-NAPOLI 2-1
MARCATORI: 9’ Sterling (M); 13’ Gabriel Jesus (M); 73’ Diawara (N, pen.)
MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Stones, Delph; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva (76′ Gundogan); Sterling (70′ Bernardo Silva), Gabriel Jesus (87′ Danilo), Sané. (Bravo, Mangala, Touré, Aguero). Coach: Guardiola
NAPOLI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj (70′ Maggio), Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik (78’ Ounas); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (57′ Allan). (Sepe, Maksimovic, Jorginho, Rog). Coach: Sarri
REFEREE: Lahoz (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: De Bruyne, Walker, Fernandinho (M), Albiol, Maggio (N)