Napoli represented the biggest challenge that Pep Guardiola’s team have faced in the early stages of this season and it was a test they passed after a thorough examination. In what was touted as a clash between Europe’s two most prolific attacking forces, City showed they possess more than just a team capable of scoring many times over.
A lightening-fast start saw them take a two-goal lead before Napoli had fully woken up to the task at hand. Playing a high-pressing game, Napoli left space for City to exploit in midfield and the Cityzens duly obliged for the first half hour of the match. From then on, though, Napoli came back strongly and it was largely thanks to a solid defence that City were able to keep a full compliment of points in the house.
This defensive capability is potentially more worrying for City’s future opponents than their fluid forwards. RealSport draw out three reasons why City are looking much more complete this year.
A Turning Point
In Tuesday’s game, the first half ended with Kyle Walker earning himself a yellow card as he wrestled Raúl Albiol to the floor, conceding a penalty in the process. Although the resulting penalty, taken by Dries Mertens, may not have been his finest strike on goal this season, Ederson’s save was crucial to City’s hopes. A key moment, being just before half-time, it could have changed the entire complexion of the game if Mertens had found the back of the net.
What was more impressive from the Brazilian stopper was his calmness through the match as the Napoli forwards continually tried to press him into making a mistake. His footwork and range of passing make it clear why Guardiola places such high importance on this position in the team.
Coupled with some fine saves during the second half, it is clear that City have not just upgraded Claudio Bravo: they look to have one of the top-three Premiership keepers. Ederson is sure to win City some points during the coming months, especially after Christmas when games become more tense affairs.
The New Rock at the Back
It was only a few short months ago that City’s only hope lay on Vincent Kompany’s shoulders. The very fact that Kompany could shore up a leaky defence suggested that City’s defensive woes weren’t entirely due to their aging wing-backs. City’s change in formation has helped this to some degree. However, the emergence of a new leader is currently well underway.
John Stones is a rejuvenated player this season and his performance last night not only made him the Man of the Match, it highlighted his growing influence at City. A 65th-minute clearance saved Fernandinho’s blushes as the midfielder’s legs began to feel the strain of playing 6 games in a month. With Fabian Delph losing the ball more often than normal and Walker finding himself dominated from aerial challenges, Stones was the main reason City were able to stand strong after the interval.
One problem which has blighted City’s previous campaigns has been their inability to perform on the big stage. They’ve often looked like a team who were technically good enough to compete save for a tendency towards severe stage-fright which has often hindered their game. With a run of good form and some key game moments going their way, City now have a real reason to believe in themselves this time around.
Pep Guardiola’s reputation also provides his team both added belief and a reason for their opponents to fear City. Napoli’s owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, may have been talking in jest when he suggested his side should rest their key players for this weekend’s fixture against Internazionale but he revealed what many teams around Europe are starting to realise: this Manchester City team are close to unbeatable. Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri left the stadium after making a ringing endorsement of City’s chance in the Champions League this season. The return fixture in a fortnight’s time may just provide further evidence of this.
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