Friday, December 14, 2018

Manchester City 2-1 Napoli: Five things we learned as England and Italy’s top sides lock horns

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It was a massively entertaining game in Manchester on Tuesday evening as Manchester City beat Napoli 2-1. Raheem Sterling opened the scoring inside 10 minutes, which was quickly followed by a finish from Gabriel Jesus which put the hosts 2-0 up. Amadou Diawara cut the arrears in half, but that was it for the goals.

With England and Italy’s top sides going head-to-head in the Champions League, many assumed it would be incredibly exciting and full of slick play, and they were not disappointed. Three goals in the game does not tell the story of how many chances were created, with the two sides unable to apply the finishing touch.

The win for City maintains their 100% Champions League record, and they are now three points clear at the top of the group with nine points and six clear of Napoli in third.

From City’s win, what five things did we learn?

Teams can’t let City have the ball

It sounds incredibly stupid to say, but teams simply cannot let Manchester City have the ball. In the Premier League, City have been the standout team and they look a class apart, which is also true in their Champions League group. Pep Guardiola is clearly having a massive effect on his team this season, with their style of play scintillating, and allowing the Manchester side to blow teams away.

City are looking much better off the ball this term too, as their defensive deficiencies look to be well in the past now. However, their strongest facet is their attacking ability. Guardiola has been able to solidify them at the back whilst turning them from a good attacking side into a world-class one.

Their ability means that opposing teams cannot let City have the ball. When they get it, they keep it for long periods and whether it is being played around between the goalkeeper and the defence in incredibly cool fashion, or being moved around by the attackers, City just do not look like losing possession. Ultimately, Napoli were beaten by a side that dominated possession. Stoke befell a similar fate at the weekend. It is far easier said than done, but teams must stop the Manchester club from keeping the ball.

Ederson could be the answer to City’s goalkeeper problems

So much has been made of the goalkeeping situation at Manchester City in recent years that it does not ever seem to ever be out of the news. Claudio Bravo replaced Joe Hart and was simply not good enough. Ederson was brought in from Benfica in the summer and many feared it would be a similar story, but how wrong that has turned out to be.

City have conceded just four goals in the league and they look far better at the back. While it is clear their defence has been tightened up, the knowledge that they have a very talented and assured goalkeeper playing behind them must fill them with confidence, something they would have been bereft of with Bravo behind them.

Against Napoli, Ederson was fantastic. He was the coolest player on the pitch with the ball at his feet and be it with one metre of space or 10, he was able to hit his man with the ball almost every time. While Bravo is also capable of this, he was unable to make the big, or even simple saves, something that Ederson excels at. Indeed, Dries Mertens saw his penalty saved by the goalkeeper, and the fact City won by a single goal means his save from the spot-kick was even more important.

While it is too early to start lauding the goalkeeper, he is making all the right moves in becoming a fixture in the city side for years to come.

Napoli getting better with time

After 15 minutes Napoli were 2-0 down, and it looked as though it could be a long night for Serie A’s top side. Perhaps the Italians weren’t playing badly, but it was the level that the English side reached that eclipsed Napoli, and will give even the best sides real problems.

However, the Italians were able to weather a ferocious storm and drag themselves back into the game. Their slick passing play almost undid City on a number of occasions and they were left cursing their profligacy. Indeed, they managed to register 46% of the possession after City’s early dominance. The Italian’s were also able to clock eight shots, of which five were on target. Considering the English side had enjoyed 76% possession in the opening 15 minutes, Napoli battled back into the game in admirable fashion.

While they did miss out on the chance to take points from City, they will take heart from their fighting display for when they welcome their opponents to Italy in two weeks time.

Kevin De Bruyne is one of the world’s best

Chelsea must be cursing their luck right now. Too often do they let players leave prematurely and they often pay for it, but this one is something else. Kevin De Bruyne was allowed to leave the London club and, at the time, it was met by general disappointment, but nobody could have known just how big a mistake it would prove to be.

The Belgium international has grown into one of the best players in the world, and perhaps the best midfielder, although that is very much up for debate. Against Chelsea a few weeks ago he was outstanding as he smashed home the winning goal. Against Stoke City, he dominated the midfield and he was in similar form against Napoli.

Indeed, his name rang out around the stadium after playing a pinpoint drilled-cross to Gabriel Jesus for the second goal. He was then rolled the ball a few yards outside of the box and, on his weaker foot, he smashed a first-time shot that came cannoning off the underside of the bar.

The level he is playing at under Pep Guardiola is incredible, and he is able to do everything, be it defensive work, keeping the ball in midfield, or setting up and finishing attacks. De Bruyne has become a phenomenal player and, if he continues on his current trajectory, then he could just become the undisputed best midfielder in the world.

No Aguero, no problem

When it was announced that Sergio Aguero would be missing for a number of weeks following a car crash, many assumed that this would see City’s incisive attacking intent blunted, with their early title charge halted somewhat. However, that has been anything but the case.

Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane were outstanding on the night as they tore Napoli’s backline apart. Their speed, dynamism and creativity is making City an incredibly ominous prospect for any side, be they English or European. With Aguero still to come back as well, it only makes City stronger, with his finishing ability second to none.

The real challenge for the English side is to keep their players fit and, if they are to lose one of the aforementioned players, then they must still push on despite that loss. Judging on their results without Aguero in recent weeks though, this is unlikely to be a problem.

Manchester City: Ederson 8 – Walker 6, Stones 7, Otamendi 7, Delph 6 – De Bruyne 9, Fernandinho 7.5, Silva 7 (Gundogan 6) – Sterling 8 (Bernado Silva 6), Jesus 8 (Danilo 6), Sane 7.5.

Unused Substitutes: Bravo, Aguero, Mangala, Toure.

Napoli: Reina 7 – Hysaj 6 (Maggio 6), Albiol, 6, Koulibaly 6.5, Ghoulam 7 – Zielinski 6, Diawara 6.5, Hamsik 6 (Ounas 5) – Callejon 6, Mertens 6, Insigne 6 (Luereiro 6).

Unused Substitutes: Sepe, Jorginho, Maksimovic, Rog.

Referree: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz.



Benjamin Darvill

Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.



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