Manchester City: Three reasons they beat Napoli

Manchester City are through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League after beating Napoli last night. Jon Mackenzie looks at three reasons why this happened.

If anyone doubted Pep Guardiola after his performances last season, Manchester City are doing everything in their power to prove his doubters wrong.

Running out 4-2 victors in the inhospitable environment of the Stadio San Paolo, Manchester City booked their place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, with a couple of late goals from Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling put the game out of reach for the Italian league leaders.

This was the sort of game that City might have contrived to lose in this competition last season and so Guardiola will be feeling quietly confident about the way his team have strolled through the group stages.

Jon Mackenzie picks out three reasons why Manchester City beat on Wednesday night.

  1. 1 Napoli's high-octane press puts them at risk later on

    Napoli are playing a truly unique brand of attacking football right now. With Maurizio Sarri implementing a high press out of possession, when his team do win the ball back, they use rapid-fire one-touch passing to advance into goal-scoring positions in the final third, often leaving defenders tied in knots as they seek to keep up the pace.

    Even a side as good as the current Manchester City team struggled to contain them and, with Napoli snatching an early goal and dominating them for long stretches of the first half, they looked likely to come out on top and add another twist to the Champions League's most exciting 'group of death'.

    Given Napoli have conceded only three goals on the pitch of the Stadio San Paolo in Serie A this season, this tactic is clearly working well. That said, these fixtures have been against Atalanta, Benevento, Cagliari, Inter and Sassuolo. 

    Against the sterner opposition that Manchester City brought to the stadium, things were different. Keeping up a high press for 90 minutes against a side as well-drilled a Pep Guardiola's City proved to be, in the end, too much for Sarri's side and it was very much an exercise in perseverance for the visitors.

    With the Scudetto being first and foremost in the minds of the Italian league leaders, Napoli's manager will have to prepare for creeping tiredness the later it gets in the season. Against better sides, his tactics might not have much staying power. 

  2. 2 City's defence is finally clicking

    All too often, the importance of the goalkeeper to a healthy functioning defence is overlooked. Take Liverpool, for example. Their defensive frailties are well-documented by now and the bulk of the blame has been shouldered by whichever one of the back four has most recently made a match-losing clanger.

    Whilst it may do little to comfort Dejan Lovren at this point, it has to be noted that the goalkeeper is integral to the defensive unit of a side and, more often than not, it is uncertainty as to the reliability of the goalkeeper behind them that breeds nervousness in the defence.

    Last season, Manchester City experienced similar problems to Liverpool with their goalkeeping duo of Claudio Bravo and Willy Cabellero doing little to instill confidence in the players around them. With the arrival of Ederson from Benfica, though, the City defence seems to have undergone a remarkable transformation. 

    At the Stadio San Paolo last night, the City back four were only really penetrated on two occasions: the first, the result of a sublime flicked pass from Dries Mertens and the second, dealt with superbly by Ederson himself when the ball fell at the feet of Jose Callejon with the scores level. 

    This gave the Manchester City forward line a base upon which to build an unassailable lead and, in previous seasons, this might not have been the case. If City are to progress in the competition, they will be as reliant upon their defence as they will upon their attack.


  3. 3 Sergio Aguero is world-class

    There are some times in life where everything seems to align at just the right time, where a brief moment becomes imbued with so much meaning that it hardly seems possible. It is at these moments that greatness is conferred.

    Last night saw one such moment: Sergio Aguero picking up the ball just outside the box, pushing it forward onto his stronger right foot and caressing the ball just inside the right-hand upright just out of reach of the despairing dive of Pepe Reina.

    It was his 178th goal for the club in 263 games, taking him past the 80-year-old record that Eric Brooks set in the 1930s. At the same time, it was Manchester City's third goal of the game, moving them into the lead against Napoli and, by the time the game had finished, into the knock-out stages of the competition.

    In many respects, it is hard to adequately express just how good the diminutive Argentine is. Much like his compatriot, Lionel Messi, Aguero pulls such astonishing statistics that the average punter has become entirely numbed to their remarkable nature. 

    One statistic suffices: in 19,584 minutes on the field, the former Atletico Madrid star has been involved in the scoring of 232 goals either by scoring or setting up the goal. This means that Aguero has been involved in the creation of a goal every 84 minutes. 

    To put this into perspective: this season, Harry Kane has been involved in the scoring of a goal every 88 minutes. That figure comes from Kane's performance over 9 appearances this season. Sergio Aguero's figures come from 264 games over seven seasons. Even at the peak of his career, then, Harry Kane is less productive than Aguero has been over the course of his time at Manchester City.

    It is easy to point to an individual player when assessing the reasons why a team won a match. In Aguero's case, though, his brilliance should not be understated. Scoring goals at the right time - think back to the Premier League winning finish against QPR in 2012 - Aguero is a world-class match-winner. On the night, Napoli could only stand and watch. 

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Jon Mackenzie

Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie