Napoli 2-1 Manchester City – Defeat leaves City’s Champions League hopes in balance

Napoli 2

Cavani 17, 49

Manchester City 1

Balotelli 33

Has the Group of Death killed off Manchester City’s Champions League aspirations for this season? No, but this result at the Stadio San Paolo has left them in critical condition.

Roberto Mancini’s men are in third place, a point adrift of Napoli who only have pointless whipping boys Villarreal still to play whereas City face Bayern Munich, who have already outclassed them once this season. If Napoli win, Mancini knows his team is out, no matter what they do.

A draw wasn’t really good enough for either team so, unlike at the Etihad Stadium in September, Napoli had to force the game but it was the visitors who started the brighter.

Mario Balotelli kept drifting in from the left, consistently troubling the home side. City had the majority of the early play and must have been disappointed to go behind on 16 minutes, particularly as the goal was so soft.

A corner swung in from the left was touched on by Edinson Cavani before Aleksandar Kolarov and then Joe Hart touched it into the net. A man on the near post and the ball probably would have stayed out.

The goal allowed Napoli to concede possession in the visitor’s half and be compact defensively before breaking forward. However this was not unfamiliar territory for City, who have been behind in four of their five Champions League games to date and they didn’t lose their cool, continuing to pass the ball well and pushing forward for the equaliser.

They got their just reward when Napoli gifted them an equally soft goal 17 minutes later. Edin Dzeko’s low cross was not adequately cleared, instead being gifted to David Silva, who killed the ball dead with great skill before firing in a quick shot. Morgan De Sanctis could only parry the ball into the path of Balotelli for a simple tap in for the equaliser, his ninth goal in his last 10 games for City.

Mancini will have been pleased with his team’s efforts at the break but just four minutes into the second half they were behind again.

Cavani picked up the ball just inside City’s half and passed it wide to Andrea Dossena before racing to edge of City’s area for the return ball which he side-footed past Hart.

City continued to push forward and this left them open at the back and they were lucky to still be in the game at the final whistle. With 14 minutes to go, Marek Hamsik hit post when Blerim Dzemaili was free to his left, had the Slovak seen him Hart would have been left stranded.

Minutes later Balotelli nearly grabbed another equaliser before Christian Maggio broke forward and only Hart stopped him from putting the game beyond City’s reach.

We are so used are to watching Manchester City outgun teams in the Premier League, the fact they have kept just two clean sheets away from home all season has probably gone under the radar. Really this result should not have been a huge surprise, and the score does not flatter the Italians.

In truth the Champions League is probably in the column marked ‘bonus’ for Mancini’s men this season, the League being the top priority.

However, crucially, if City don’t make the last 16 they will qualify instead for the Europa League. That will clutter the back end of their season with Thursday-night games, something Sir Alex Ferguson may be pleased about.

Napoli (3-4-3): De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Inler (Dzemaili 58), Gargano, Dossena (Fernandez 88); Lavezzi, Hamsik, Cavani (Pandev 82).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart, Zabaleta (Johnson 85), Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; Silva, De Jong (Nasri 69), Yaya Toure, Milner; Balotelli, Dzeko (Aguero 81).

Did you know… Napoli’s coach Walter Mazzarri has been in charge of the club since October 2009, making him the longest serving coach in Serie A.

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