Champions League verdict: Napoli 2 Manchester City 1
Goals: Cavani 17, 49 for Napoli. Balotelli 33 for City.
City crashed to defeat in Naples courtesy of two Edinson Cavani goals to only one from Mario Balotelli. With our hopes of qualifying now reliant on a favour from Villarreal this is likely to prove a costly result.
Roberto Mancini’s side were always unlikely to win the Champions League but getting beyond the group stages would have been good for building the brand, and for the money with Financial Fair Play in mind.
With no Tevez to divert attention this time, the focus has fallen on Mancini’s selection. This season has seen genuine rotation and Mancini didn’t waver in this fixture. It’s questionable whether Kolarov, Zabaleta or Dzeko would feature in our strongest 11 on current form.
The selection of Zabaleta and Kolarov over Richards and Clichy has drawn criticism and Mancini clearly made a mistake. People have taken the fact that Micah has only started one Champions League fixture as thinking Mancini harbours doubts about him at the highest level.
Yet Micah and Clichy started at Old Trafford, and are likely to back in the team at Anfield. Mancini is likely to have selected Zabaleta in the Napoli games because he knows Lavezzi so well. The pair have been in recent Argentina squads and played in the 2008 Olympics together.
Zabaleta came to City from La Liga and his experience there is likely to have seen him given the nod over Richards for the games against Villarreal. Likewise Kolarov came from Serie A, and Mancini would have expected him to be familiar with Italian opponents.
This horses for courses approach may explain the selection, however it still backfired. With Napoli crowding the central area City needed to turn the opposition defence via the flanks, particularly when behind. Neither Zabaleta or Kolarov are adept at getting forward quickly enough.
Of course if City hadn’t fallen behind, then Zabaleta’s inclusion in particular would have been justified. City started the game with plenty of possession yet the extent to which we pushed forward was surprising.
This played into the hands of Napoli as they were able to strike on the break. A draw would have been a better result for City and Mancini should have set the side up to be more cautious about committing players forward.
Milner was by far our best player in the first half, yet Barry’s positional discipline alongside de Jong was missed.
Going forward there was an anxiety about City that manifested itself in uncharacteristic long range shooting. Mario was also overly keen to make an impression and tried to do too much on his own.
As a result City failed to carve open chances in the usual manner. Without Nasri or Aguero to link up with, Silva was unable to find a way through.
Yaya had one of his more disappointing games, crucially failing to stay close to Cavani for the opening goal. His earlier wayward shot from distance contrasted badly with one by Inler that forced the corner which led to the goal.
Yaya’s casual loss of possession at the start of the second half typified the sluggish opening which saw Napoli score the killer goal.
Despite all this City still had more shots both on and off target, and both Balotelli and Aguero came close to an equaliser. Napoli were not impossible to breach and had our substitutions been made earlier, then a crucial second goal may have come.
It was surprising to see Mancini wait until the 70th minute before making his first change – he normally prefers to bring someone on at the hour mark. Nasri had one of his best games at the weekend and we needed his accurate passing in the final third.
Aguero had only ten minutes and Johnson five, neither was enough. The Argentine has shown he possesses the skill to conjure a goal, while we were crying out for Johnson to provide genuine width and give the Napoli defence a different problem.
It wasn’t to be and Mancini has to take his share of the blame this time. The prospect of the Europa League is most unenticing, particularly bearing in mind how it affected our league form after Christmas last season.
There is still a chance of qualification. If Villarreal can get some of their injured players back then a home draw may not be beyond them. We then have the small task of having to beat Bayern, yet if we play to our best it is possible. It would certainly be nice to end the group phase with a performance and result that shows our true quality.