Manchester City 2 Napoli 1
Tuesday 17th October 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad
The only regret during a first half of fantasy
football was that Malcolm Allison did not live to see this.
During United’s long years of dominance, they would recall
Manchester City’s one match in the European Cup. It was 1968 and
Allison declared that his club would unleash themselves on the
‘cowards of Europe’.
They lasted one tie, knocked out by Fenerbahce in the first round.
Almost half a century on and Manchester City have a side that, if
they can expunge the defensive looseness that threatened to
undermine them after the interval, will terrify Europe.
The summer talk in the city was of Jose Mourinho’s ‘second season
syndrome’ and of what he might achieve at Old Trafford. Pep
Guardiola’s second season has seen Liverpool routed 5-0, Stoke
concede seven and the champions, Chelsea, outplayed at Stamford
Bridge. Now, they overcame the leaders of Serie A and virtually
qualified for the business phase of the Champions League after three
What would niggle at Guardiola as he reviewed this game was that a
night that should have produced an emphatic victory might have
slipped away had Napoli converted both their penalties. There was
relief mixed in with the cheers at the final whistle.
Lawrie McMenemy once said of Allison that he attempted the kind of
tactics that First Division managers would only discuss when their
annual dinners had reached the whisky and cigars stage. He would
have appreciated the way Manchester City slashed their way through
the Napoli defence to the extent that by half hour mark they could
easily have led by four.
To Napoli, two would have seemed plenty as Maurizio Sarri’s defence
was turned and twisted and eventually broken. It was 12 months since
they last conceded twice before the interval. Sarri, a habitual
smoker, would many times have felt the need to reach for the comfort
of the cigarette pack.
The first goal arrived before 10 minutes were up. It was Raheem
Sterling’s eighth of the campaign. Last season it took Sterling
until February to reach that mark. It was created by a sight
Guardiola would have liked, his full-back in the opposition area.
Kyle Walker’s shot was blocked but Sterling seized upon the rebound.
There is a theory that Kevin de Bruyne, like his Belgian team-mate,
Romelu Lukaku does not perform in ‘big games’. As far as De Bruyne
is concerned, it is flat-earth nonsense. He had excelled at Stamford
Bridge and now, against a team his manager considers one of the best
in Europe, he produced a perfect pass that flew between Kalidou
Koulibaly’s legs and was clipped home by Gabriel Jesus for his fifth
goal inside a week.
Then came a moment that was so relaxed it might have appeared on a
training pitch. Leroy Sane languidly pulled the ball pack between
two Napoli defenders and De Bruyne, carefully, coolly swung a boot
that saw the ball crash against the underside of Reina’s crossbar
and somehow not cross the line.
Goal-line technology demonstrated that Jesus’s shot, delivered after
a gymnastic turn in the box, half saved by Reina and then blocked by
Koulibaly had not gone over the line.
It appeared academic but Napoli demonstrated the kind of resilience
against the odds for which their city has long been renowned. Had
they scored both the penalties the referee, Antonio Lahoz, awarded
they might have flown back to Naples with a point that would have
seemed a wildly improbable return at the half-hour mark.
The first was awarded after Walker held Raul Albiol as the two men
contested a cross. The task of converting the penalty fell to Dries
Mertens, who had been Rafa Benitez’s first signing during his stint
at the Stadio San Paolo. His shot lacked direction and power and
Ederson saved with his legs. Fernandinho charged athletically at the
rebound and scooped the ball clear with his leg at full stretch.
The Brazilian did, however, concede the second spot-kick, bringing
down Faouzi Ghoulam as the Algerian skipped through Manchester
City’s defence. This time, Mertens was not asked to take the
penalty. Amadou Diawara demonstrated how it should be done.
In between, Napoli might have scored another as Mertens crossed low
on the run for Napoli’s captain, Marek Hamsik, who needed one more
to equal Diego Maradona’s goalscoring record for the club. But for a
dramatic, sliding interception from John Stones this would have been
it. Sarri and his players protested that the Yorkshireman had used
his hand but the replay suggested it had been a perfect call.
||Manchester City: (4-3-3) Ederson;
Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph; De Bruyne, Fernandinho,
D.Silva (Gundogan 76); Sterling (B.Silva 69), Jesus (Danilo
86), Sane. Unused Substitutes: Bravo (g), Aguero,
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj (Maggio 69), Albiol, Koulibaly,
Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens,
Insigne (Allan 56). Unused Substitutes: Sepe (g), Jorginho,
Maksimovic, Rog, Ounas.
Referee: Antonio Lahoz (Spain)
Attendance : 53,526
Manchester City 7 Stoke City 2
Saturday 14th October 2017 : GYKO at The
Something fairly amazing happened in the 27th minute of this latest
Manchester City goal fest. A slick first-time passing move produced
an unanswerable goal for the home side, but a bamboozled Stoke City
defence was already wearily familiar with that routine. What shocked
about the third goal was that Kevin De Bruyne was not behind it.
The Belgian has been the inspiration behind much of what Manchester
City have produced this season, yet here were his fellow forwards
pinging the ball about with accuracy and imagination without him.
Gabriel Jesus found Leroy Sané on the left, his firm cross was
instinctively caught and turned back in a single touch by Raheem
Sterling, which left David Silva the relatively simple task of
arriving on the six-yard line to become the third different scorer
of the afternoon.
Even by that stage, supporters in the posh new Tunnel Club seats
were beginning to turn their back on the action to take selfies. In
fairness, in under half an hour they had already witnessed the best
of the De Bruyne show. “Kevin is a big talent, he’s dynamic and
aggressive,” Pep Guardiola said. “When he gets possession with space
ahead of him our forwards know to get moving because the ball is
Not only the forwards, as it happens. For the first goal the
visitors were slow to react to the danger when De Bruyne advanced
with the ball, biding his time until Kyle Walker came steaming up on
his inside to run behind Kevin Wimmer. Once De Bruyne knew he was
ready the weight on his pass was perfect, leaving the right-back to
cut the ball back from the goal line for Jesus to hook past Jack
Before Stoke had fully recovered their composure Manchester City
struck again with another quality passing move. This time a
disguised reverse pass from De Bruyne, quite possibly his most
exquisite of the afternoon, set Sané free on the left with Jesus and
Sterling practically queuing up in front of goal. Sané found the
latter and Sterling came up with a composed finish. With David Silva
missing an inviting opening just before his goal and De Bruyne
bringing a fingertip save from Butland right on the stroke of
half-time, Stoke could hardly have complained if they had turned
round four or five goals in arrears.
Remarkably, thanks to a determined run and shot from Mame Diouf and
a neat return pass from Jesé, the interval deficit was just two.
Stoke had managed to score with their only real attack of the first
half and having had 16% of possession by that point, but it came at
exactly the right time to remind all present this might not be the
expected procession after all. That impression was only strengthened
when Stoke opened the second half with another goal, Diouf reaching
a Tom Edwards cross to score with the help of a significant
deflection off Walker, though that was as good as the afternoon got
for Mark Hughes and his 18-year-old debutant.
Edwards did not enjoy the easiest of Premier League introductions
trying to keep tabs on Sané, and though he must have been pleased
with an assist his afternoon ended prematurely when an
over-enthusiastic Fabian Delph challenge saw him depart on a
stretcher with an ankle injury.
Stoke never looked as threatening again and the home side regained
control with ridiculous ease thanks to another burst of three quick
goals. De Bruyne had a hand in them all, and though Stoke only had
themselves to blame for the mix-up that led to the first, there was
absolutely nothing wrong with the midfielder’s searching ball into
the area and even more to admire in a dazzling first time finish
Fernandinho was next, taking a pass from De Bruyne via Delph to
hammer home a long shot, and if Belgian influence on that occasion
was minimal normal service was resumed with the sixth goal. A
delightful diagonal ball left Sané an opportunity he could hardly
miss, a fact not lost on a crowd who celebrated by singing De
Bruyne’s name rather than that of the goal scorer.
“De Bruyne is head and shoulders above anyone else in the Premier
League,” Hughes said, unashamedly joining in the chorus of
appreciation. “I have to be honest, some of their goals today were
outstanding, almost impossible to defend against because of the
quality of the passing. We weren’t at our best but we came up
against an exceptional side full of world-class players.”
Stoke were as good as on the bus home by the time Sterling and
Bernardo Silva combined for a seventh goal. Guardiola had withdrawn
De Bruyne by then, but even with only 66 minutes on the pitch there
was no question who was man of the match. “I cannot deny that was
one of the best team performances I have seen here,” Guardiola said
“We played quick and we played simple, and I hope we can play as
well in the next game against Napoli.” Tuesday’s Champions League
fixture is likely to be a much sterner test for free-scoring City,
but credit where it is due. There is no need for any further
speculation about whether or not Guardiola can do it against Stoke.
||Manchester City: Ederson, Delph, Otamendi,
Walker, Stones, Silva, Fernandinho (Yaya Toure 73’), De
Bruyne (Gundogan 64), Sané, de Jesus (Bernardo 63),Sterling
Unused subs Bravo, Agüero, Mangala, Danilo
Stoke City: Butland, Cameron, Zouma, Wimmer, Martins
(Indi 46), Fletcher, Pieters, Edwards (Sobhi 53), Diouf,
Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jese (Afellay 46)
Unused subs Crouch, Ahmed, Berahino, Grant
Referee : Craig Pawson
Attendance : 54,128