Verdict: Manchester City 1 Napoli 1
Goals: Cavani 68 mins for Napoli. Kolarov 74 mins for City.
So this is the Champions League. An exhilerating game where City went for the win, ran out of steam, then came back to claim a draw thanks to a perfectly executed Kolarov free-kick.
If City were the team in the third pot whom everyone wanted to avoid, then Napoli were surely the fourth pot equivalent. Both sides were victims of their poor UEFA co-efficients and consequently Group A is looking to be of a particularly high standard.
For this game Mancini made several changes, recalling Dzeko and Nasri to the attack. The bigger surpise was the rotation out of Clichy and Richards in favour of Zabaleta and Kolarov.
Maybe Mancini backed Kolarov to reproduce his Serie A form while trusting Zabaleta to track his Argentine colleague Lavezzi. It wasn’t an overwhelming success.
Clichy has fitted seamlessly into the City side and his pace would have been useful against the quick breaking Italians. Kolarov’s goal redeemed a performance that resembled the laboured efforts of last season.
Zabaleta did little wrong but it would have been interesting to see how Napoli dealt with the physicality of Richard’s surging runs. While we struggled to play our way through Napoli’s committed back line, both Clichy and Richards could have given much needed width.
The biggest concern on the night however was the gaping Nigel de Jong shaped hole between defence and midfield. Here it was possible to have sympathy with Mancini.
Ideally you feel the manager would have one of either de Jong or Hargreaves alongside Barry, Milner or Yaya. With Milner injured, Barry was required to play despite not being fully fit himself and it was noticeable how he struggled after the break.
Yaya started the game superbly before slowing markedly in the latter stages. Neither he or Barry are quick enough to get back after they push upfield, and too often Napoli had a free run at the centre of our defence.
Upfield, a bright start gave way to a struggle as Napoli’s three man defence quickly became seven. The tackling was noticeably sharper than in the Premier League and when Silva did get away, the Italians weren’t averse to cruder methods of stopping him.
With attempts to play through the middle failing, City needed the attacking width of Richards and Clichy to stretch the Italians. With the situation starting to look desperate, Kolarov provided the equaliser.
Mancini went ahead with his planned substitution, bringing on Clichy and Johnson to give us width with added pace. The combination of this and the lift from scoring saw City back in the ascendancy.
Dzeko came closest to a winner with a turn and shot before he made way for Tevez. Mancini was clearly making a tactical switch as the Bosnian had been faring better than Aquero.
Tevez’s game involves dropping deep as the ‘false 9’ and boosting the midfield. Yaya and Barry were no longer required to push forward and the chances of conceding were reduced, at least until Kompany fluffed a backpass to Hart.
By the final whistle Napoli had substituted all of their celebrated attacking trio and were slowing the game down at any opportunity. This was understandable as an away draw is a good result in what is likely to be a tight group. With their impressive gameplan having nearly defeated the blues, there could be little argument with a draw from City either.
Napoli were tougher opponents than any we’ve encountered in the Premier League thus far and next up it’s away to Bayern who have started the season in scintillating form. Mancini will certainly want de Jong back for that one. If he’s not available and Hargreaves is playing in the Premier League then Mancini may rue the decision to leave the Canadian out of our Champions League squad.