It was make or break time tonight in the Champion`s League for Roberto Mancini`s Blues as a win would guarantee a place in the knock out stages. City had only played Napoli once before in the reverse of this fixture which ended in a 1-1 draw. When it came to Italian opposition though, City had only lost once in seven outings.
Mancini rang the changes in tonight`s team and the team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong, Toure, Milner, Silva, Dzeko and Balotelli. This was a very attacking line up with two strikers playing at the top of their game, backed up by the brilliance of Silva, the power of Toure, the resilience of Milner and the tough tackling of De Jong. We were in for a night and a half.
Lazio kicked off right to left in an atmosphere that was incredible. City were soon back in possession and moving the ball forward with Silva over on their right.
First cross of the game came from Milner as Zabaleta played a sweet ball over the full back. The cross was inch perfect, but Dzeko got in the way of Balotelli who was as usual in the right spot.
Five minutes in and City were starting to hold onto the ball as the attacking midfielders rotated at pace swapping positions and keeping the Italian side guessing. This great movement allowed Toure the chance of a shot centrally from the edge of the Napoli box. The shot was high and wide, but City were soon back in possession winning the ball straight from the goal kick.
A minute later and Balotelli had crept in from the left side of attack and found a great position between full back and centre half. Dzeko found the Italian and Balotelli struck a wicked shot which flew just wide of the post.
On seven minutes the Italians found themselves in possession on the edge of the box. Kompany put in an inch perfect tackle on Cavani who went down writhing in agony as if shot. City broke in numbers, but were caught on the counter almost conceding to Napoli in their first real attack. Hart however was well positioned to save the ensuing header.
On ten minutes, Napoli had another chance as they broke once again with pace. Lavezzi cut in from the left side and played a great ball to Cavani who shot with power but wide of Hart`s left post. Twice now City had given the ball away cheaply and both times Napoli had chances on goal.
Napoli`s front three were showing some great movement in the final third of the field and when they had possession, the City players were struggling to mark up properly and allowing chances.
Best save of the game came on sixteen minutes as Inler struck a wonder shot from thirty yards out. The ball dipped and curled but Hart was up to it and tipped the ball over the bar. The resultant corner was swung in to the near post. Kolarov attempted to divert the ball out for another corner but only succeeded in striking Hart leg and sending the ball into his own net for Napoli`s first goal. One nil to the Italians and City had it all to do.
City`s third shot came just before the twentieth minute after neat passing between Toure and Milner found Silva free on the edge of the Napoli box. Silva shot well and on target but the Napoli keeper had positioned himself well and saved with ease. This was followed by more theatrics and dare I say it cheating as another Napoli player went down pole axed from a soft tackle.
Twenty five minutes in and Silva found Milner on the right. Milner cut in and crossed with his left foot. The ball was inches from Dzeko`s head but just a little too hard.
As the first half hour drew to a close, City were making things hard for themselves. One nil down to a goal that has to be put down to poor near post defending and putting themselves under pressure by losing the ball cheaply with far too much regularity.
Luck seemed to change for City on thirty two minutes as Napoli defended terribly as Dzeko put a weak cross into their box. The cross fell to the Italian`s centre half who strangely opted to pass to Silva, running into the box. Silva shot and all Napoli`s keeper could do was deflect the shot into the path of Mario Balotelli who side footed into an empty net. One all and game on.
City nearly had another tap in with three minutes of the half left. Balotelli had switched to the right and found Silva on the left with a lovely cross field ball. Silva stopped the ball with one touch and played a straight ball between full back and centre half for Kolarov to run onto. The full back shot against the keeper and the ball rebounded into Dzeko`s path just as a Napoli foot took it away.
As the ref blew for half time, the score line was pretty fair. City had maybe edged it with more shots on target, but Napoli had broken with real pace. One thing was for sure though, Mancini would make sure City didn`t give the ball away as cheaply in the second half.
City kicked off the second half with no changes and were guilty almost immediately of giving the ball away cheaply in the centre of the pitch, this time Toure was the guilty party.
Three minutes into the half and disaster struck. De Jong gave the ball away once again. Cavani of Napoli played the ball out wide and showed excellent movement running into the box for the return ball which found him perfectly. He struck the ball cleanly but near to Joe Hart and City`s keeper got a hand to the ball. Unfortunately Hart`s hand wasn`t strong enough and he could only deflect the ball into the side of the net. Two one to Napoli and City were really under the cosh.
First substitution of the game came on fifty six minutes as the injured Inler was replaced by Dzemaili. Whislt Napoli were down to ten men, City had had a period of possession which ended with a poor shot by Silva. As the ball went out, the substitution took place.
City took this opportunity to move Silva inside and immediately started to see more of the ball. This began to lead City to hold on to the ball more. They won a free kick on the right which was swung in toward Dzeko. It looked as if the big Bosnian would get his head to the ball before he fell to the ground pushed by a Napoli player. It looked a stonewall penalty, but the ref waved play on. Silva protested, as Balotelli had in the first half. The protestations merely earnt him a yellow card. .
Twenty minutes into the second half, City were seeing more of the ball in the final third of the field, yet despite this could not find that telling pass that would unlock the Napoli defence. Indeed each time it looked like something may happen, possession was lost, or a poor ball played in.
With twenty two minutes to go, after a period of possession, City once more lost possession. Hamsek pounced on the loose ball and played a wonderful pass through to Lavezzi. The covering Kompany lost his footing and allowed Lavezzi a clear shot. The Napoli striker hit the ball with venom but this time Hart was up to the task and pushed the ball wide for a corner.
At this point, seventy minutes in, Mancini withdrew De Jong and replaced him with Nasri in an attempt to inject some trickery and passing ability into the team.
Napoli were dropping deeper and deeper and making it hard for City to break through. It seemed obvious that going down the middle of the pitch whilst Napoli parked the proverbial bus was playing right into the Italian`s hands. Yet this was exactly what City did. .
The Italians were playing a clever game, getting away with a number of fouls on Silva and Balotelli for which the referee gave nothing and also wasting time overacting.
On seventy eight minutes, goals could have been scored at both ends. First Balotelli was put through on goal but he shot at the keeper and then Maggio was put through at the other end and only a wonderful save by Hart kept the score line at 2-1.
With ten minutes to go, Balotelli was involved again as he nicked the ball of the Napoli left back. The defender clearly brought the City striker down but the ref once again waved play on.
At this point Aguero entered the fray for the sake of Dzeko and within a minute, Cavani had been replaced by Pandev.
With six minutes to go, City took off Zabaleta and replaced him with Johnson. Milner moved to right back and Johnson went to right wing.
This change nearly paid dividends as Johnson played Aguero in. The Argentinian waltzed through the Napoli defence but his shot from a tight angle was saved by Napoli`s keeper.
Seconds after this, Kolarov earnt City another yellow as he challenged from high and to the side.
With two minutes to go, Dossena was replaced by Fernandez as Napoli sought to slow down the impetus City had begun to build with the introduction of Adam Johnson. Possession lay solely with City as the side drew to an end as Mancini`s men sought that all important goal that would ensure at least a share of the points.
City had three minutes left to score but every time they were fouled the ref seemed to wave play on and every time a tackle went in on a Napoli player a free kick was given. The seconds were ticking away and then it was all over. City had lost. In truth the probably didn`t deserve to lose, but poor marking and an inability to keep possession gave the points to Napoli.
Joe Hart – 8
Unlucky with the first goal and kept the score line down to something reasonable. Napoli could have had at least two more had it not be for Joe
Pablo Zabaleta – 6.5
There is a gulf in class between Pablo and Micah Richards. City missed the attacking fullback tonight.
Vincent Kompany – 6.5
Looked off balance and nervous tonight. Could not mark up a lot of the time.
Joleon Lescott – 7
Played well for the most part and has probably looked better than the Captain this year.
Aleksander Kolarov – 6.0
Most of the good attacks came from when Kolarov went forward, but he did get caught out of position too much. Didn’t have the pace to get back. Also lost the ball too much.
Nigel De Jong – 6.5
Didn’t offer the usual combative style we are used to.
Yaya Toure – 7.0
Tried his heart out but looked off balance and his first touch seemed to abandon him tonight.
James Milner – 7.5
Probably the pick of the three ‘defensive’ midfielders.
David Silva – 7.0
Played some good passes but struggled with the packed midfield.
Mario Balotelli – 8
The best City player on the pitch. Could have had three. Kicked from pillar to post.
Edin Dzeko – 6.0
Won a few headers.
Nasri – 6.5
Didn’t have much of an impact when he came on.
Aguero – 7.5
Some mazy dribbles and nearly scored. Should have been on twenty minutes earlier.
Put in a couple of crosses. Should have been on twenty minutes earlier.
Roberto Mancini – 6
A big mistake changing the full backs and should have changed things a lot earlier. The first time I have seen Mancini make tactical mistakes.