At last after a lifetime of waiting City were finally in the big time plying their trade on the greatest stage. Could Mancini’s Blue and White army perform on this playing field the way they did against the likes of Wigan and Spurs, for surely if they did the world would stand up and take notice and the comparisons made with Barcelona would be somewhat justified.
Starting out at home gave City a slight advantage in the group and the first game against Napoli was one where nerves must be mastered and chances taken to secure the all important first win in the group stage. With this in mind, Mancini opted for more defensive full backs in Zabaleta and Kolarov. Barry came back into midfield for the injured Milner and Dzeko came back in for Tevez.
With an electric atmosphere if not a full house, City kicked off the game playing right to left. Blue moon rang out around the stadium and the game was under way. Barry was lucky not to be booked within the opening seconds for a lunging tackle.
Nasri, Silva and Aguero were combining nicely. Between the three of them the found Dzeko inside the box on two minutes. With his back to goal he played in Nasri who struck a great shot which flashed just wide of the Napoli keeper’s left post.
City’s second chance came moments later from a left sided corner which flashed a cross goal and missed three city players by inches.
Six minutes in and City were nearly left with egg on their faces as a poor infield pass from Zabaleta led to a break where Napoli had a momentary one man advantage. Lucky for city the Lavezzi had a rush of blood and opted to shoot from way out. The shot was high and wide.
Three minutes later and City had a free kick thirty yards out after dzeko had been rugby tackled to the ground. No card was issued. Silva struck the ball cleanly enough but it struck the Napoli all and went out for a corner on the City right. Nasri found the head of Kompany who directed the ball goal wards and if not for some last ditch defending surely City would have scored.
City were enjoying possession and when Barry played a lovely ball through midfield to Dzeko, a neat turn and a one two with Nasri saw Dzeko burst through and struck a wicked shot which flew just wide of the far post. City were beigninning to dominate and the first yellow card of the game soon followed after Maggio tackled Silva from behind on the City left wing.
Disaster nearly struck on seventeen minutes when literally one slip nearly cost city. Kompany with the ball at his feet slipped and allowed the Napoli striker a clear run at goal. Had it not been for Hart tipping the ball on to the bar it would surely have been one nil to Napoli.
Zabaleta was next in the book after he went to ground attempting to win the ball. The Napoli left back went to ground as if struck by a bullet and lay prone on the touchline. As soon as the card was shown he jumped up dusted himself off a jogged up pitch. I don’t want to say typical, but this play acting doesn`t have a place at the highest level.
Next yellow card for a rugby style tackle was awarded to Cannavaro for his tackle on Aguero who had been played through on the City left and was heading for the touch line. If nothing else the Italian side were living up to ‘type’ diving at the mere hint of a tackle and making sure their man didn’t get past them at all costs, but with two defenders already booked, how long would it be before the card count started to tell.
The first goal should have come for City on thirty four minutes after toure intercepted Napoli’s corner ball and ran the full length of the pitch before finding Silva. Silva returned the ball to Toure who struck a mean shot which somehow cannoned off the underside of the bar and straight back into play.
City almost scored direct from a free kick on the right side some thirty five yards out. It missed everyone but was going into the net until Napoli’s keeper managed to scramble a cross goal and tip the ball out for a corner.
Third yellow to Napoli came when aronica upended Aguero again on the left wing. This was proving a problem area for Napoli and the would be lucky to survive with eleven men on the pitch if City kept attacking this week spot.
As half time approached, it didn’t look like any goals were coming. City were too narrow and were trying to play through a crowded box. The only joy they had had was on the break and when playing the ball wide. The two full backs were getting forward but both were crossing too early instead of getting to the byline and cutting the ball back as Clichy and Richards had in previous games. Kompany was looking very nervous and had been saved from blushes by Lescott on several occasions. City had had the better chances but were becoming increasingly frustrated with the dirty actics employed by Napoli.
The second half kicked off with City still looking nervous and Mancini’s lack of overlapping full backs was causing concern as the team looked narrow and lacking in width.
Everytime City had a chance within the box an Italian leg was in the way to block it. Napoli were proving hard to break down and if City did break a gentle tug or nudge was enough to break up play for the sake of a free kick.
For all his poor work in the first half Kompany made a diving save on the line to prevent a Napoli goal after Lescott and Hart were beaten hands down. The ball looked destined for the net until Kompany threw himself a cross the line somehow contriving to turn at the last minute so the ball struck his back and cannoned back into play.
City were beginning to edge the possession ten minutes into the second half as they went searching for that elusive first goal. A shot by Dzeko from the edge of the box on fifty six minutes was easily gathered by the Napoli keeper and City were looking a shadow of the team that had played in previous matches.
First substitution of the game came from Napoli as Levazzi was replaced by Dzemaili as they attempted to break the deadlock. This was quickly followed by Napoli’s fourth yellow card as this time Toure was hauled down by a tackle better placed in the rugby world cup than on the pitch at the Etihad stadium.
With twenty nine minutes left Nasri played a wayward ball forward which was quickly intercepted and played between Kompany and Zabaleta. The midfielder found the byline and cut a lovely ball back a cross the City box. Kompany was there again to block the cross which looked destined to be met by the outsretched foot of Dzemaili.
Napoli nearly scored in the sixty fifth minute after they capitlised on City’s reticence to break with pace. Caught ball watching City lost possession and within seconds were facing a shot that looked all the way a goal until Zabaleta threw himself in the way.
Within seconds of this though, Hart was picking the ball out of his net. Caught in possession yet again by Napoli, City were slow to get back. A quick break and a one two and Cavani struck a sweet shot under the body of the advancing Joe Hart and for all his defensive emphasis tactically, Mancini still found his charges one nil down. Perhaps City should have stuck to what they have been doing well and attacked from the off.
City nearly equalised seconds later after Nasri managed to lose the right back and put in a cross. Aguero picked the ball and unleashed a ferocious shot which came back off the woodwork. A scrap ensued and City won a free kick on the edge of the eighteen yard box on the right side. Up stepped the otherwise poor Kolarov to strike a sweet powerful shot which beat the keeper to make it one all. .
This was Kolarov’s last touch as he was replaced by Clichy. Nasri who had also not looked his usual self was replaced by Johnson as Mancini searched for the goal that would bring all three points.
Johnson had an immediate impact making the byline for the first time in the match, cutting the ball back to Dzeko who turned on a six pence and shot. The ball flew wide of the Napoli far post. Seconds later and a cross on the left from Clichy almost found Aguero. The added width and penetration was making the last ten minutes an interesting one.
City’s final substitution came with nine minutes to go as Tevez came on to replace Dzeko. City looked quicker and more likely to get something on the break. This was quickly followed by Napoli’s final substitution as Pandev entered the fray. Seven minutes left and whilst City may have edged the game but the score was not the one required.
City could have gone two one down when Napoli broke past the defensive line and found themselves one on one with the keeper. Hart raced for the ball and got a vital touch as he played the ball against the advancing striker and watching it go out for a goal kick.
Napoli’s final substitution saw Hamsek replaced by Santana. City’s game was too littered with mistakes and nerves and no one was willing to grab it by the scruff of the neck and take a chance. Too many wayward passes, too many passes when a shot looked the better option and a sudden defensive frailty not seen under Mancini’s side in a long time. City were also subject to some terrible fouls and cynical play. They came up against a team happy to put eight players behind the ball.
Mancini didn`t this game because of tactics that were too negative and players that were too reticent at shooting. There was no pace and no penetration. Yes City hit the woodwork twice but they could just have easily lost the game as Kompany and Zabaleta made last ditch tackles. No one was particularly poor, but no one was outstanding today. A special mention has to be made for Lescott who saved Kompany’s blushes on several occasions and is beginning to look a class act . One thing is for sure though City sorely missed Nigel De Jong.
Joe Hart – 7.5
Wasn’t at fault for the goal and made a brilliant block towards the end of the game.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6.5
Brought into to strengthen the team defensively but got caught out of position to much and was beaten for pace on occasion. Put crosses in too early and didn’t make the by-line enough.
Vincent Kompany – 6.5
Looked nervous and put the team under pressure as lost possession too much. Did put in a brilliant block on the goal line.
Joleon Lescott – 8
The best man on the pitch for me. Saved Kolarov too many times when the left back was caught up pitch.
Aleksandar Kolarov – 6
Scored the equalising goal but in truth had a poor game. He was guilty of crossing to early and not overlapping. Didn’t contribute to the cause at all and was shown up when Clichy replaced him.
Yaya Toure – 7
Hustled and bustled in midfield and made a couple of decent runs and should have scored.
Gareth Barry – 6.5
Guilty of losing possession which ultimately led to the Napoli goal. Lacked the pace to move the ball quickly as Milner had done on Saturday.
Samir Nasri – 6.5
Guilty of passing when the shooting opportunity was on. Couldn’t find a way through or past the brick wall Napoli set up on their eighteen yard line.
David Silva – 7
Showed glimpses of brilliance but was shackled by the defensive Napoli set up. Couldn’t find the magic needed to break through the five man defence.
Sergio Aguero – 6.5
Couldn’t get a shot off without it being blocked. Was fouled
early every time he started to look dangerous.
Edin Dzeko – 6.5
Played with his back to goal against three centre halves. Didn’t get any supply from the wings as City tried to play through the middle.
Gael Clichy – 7
Made an impact on the game with his surging runs and had the pace to get back and cover when needed.
Adam Johnson – 7.0
Came on too late to have a big impact but got to the by line and put in some dangerous crosses.
Should have been on with thirty minutes to go. His style would have suited the tactics far better as he try’s to bulldoze his way through defences.
Roberto Mancini – 6
Got the tactics wrong. Picked two fullbacks lacking pace and so there was no overlapping wing-play. Everything was too narrow against a five man defence. Didn’t have the awareness to run at the Napoli defence when they had yellow cards.