Manchester City produced another impressive display as they beat in-form Serie A leaders Napoli to maintain their 100% winning start to this season’s Champions League.
Billed as an encounter between the two most scintillating attacking sides in Europe, City fully lived up to the hype before the break, giving their Italian rivals a brutal lesson in high-pressing, incisive football.
Goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus – both neat close-range finishes – put them firmly in control and they would have been out of sight had Kevin de Bruyne’s 25-yard shot found the net instead of the crossbar and Kalidou Koulibaly not been well-placed to clear another Jesus effort off the line.
However, Napoli battled back into the game and, despite having a Dries Mertens penalty saved by Ederson, they converted a second through Amadou Diawara’s neat finish to set up a nervy final 17 minutes for the home side.
City’s 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.
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
‘One of the best teams I’ve ever faced’ – what they said
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: “Napoli’s an exceptional team. One of the best teams I have ever faced in my career, no doubts about that, maybe the best.
“It was perfect, if we don’t play good we cannot beat that team, it’s impossible.”
“The situation is go to the next one and try to win the game. Three games, nine points is good but it’s not already done. We cannot relax. We need one more victory to qualify but we want to try to finish first.”
Ten on the trot – the stats you need to know
- In all competitions, City have now recorded 10 consecutive victories; equalling their previous best run under Pep Guardiola (10 wins at the start of 2016/17)
- 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)