City continue to make huge strides with statement win

Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus slotting past Napoli 'keeper Pepe Reina in the 13th minute to put his side two up. With their 2-1 win, City sit pretty atop Group F as they remain undefeated so far this season.
Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus slotting past Napoli 'keeper Pepe Reina in the 13th minute to put his side two up. With their 2-1 win, City sit pretty atop Group F as they remain undefeated so far this season.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Manchester City extended their perfect Champions League record on a night when they found themselves reeled in by fast-breaking opponents manager Pep Guardiola described as "one of the best teams I have faced in professional football".

Goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus within 13 minutes had suggested another City romp.

But by the end, Napoli could feel hard done by in a game where the result could have gone either way and where a missed Dries Mertens first-half penalty proved crucial.

"I knew before we played and now I know again this (Napoli) is one of the best teams in Europe," Guardiola said after his team's 2-1 victory.

"It's one of my proudest games. I know against which team we won. Teams that are at that level you cannot beat easily."

The game had a crackle of expectation around it from the start. At times, watching City rack up 39 goals before the end of October has felt a bit like an autumn glut, all juice and drooling excess.

They faced another bunch of dashers. Top of Italy's Serie A with eight wins out of eight, Napoli have set off like a train, revelling in their own slick, direct, hard-running style that promised plenty of space in behind.

Sterling scored his sixth goal in the past eight games, and with 13 minutes gone, it was 2-0.

City were helped by some poor defending from Raul Albiol, who headed the ball straight into the onrushing press, before falling over trying to match Jesus' spin and dart behind him. Kevin de Bruyne's low cross was millimetre-perfect, the finish a formality.

On the touchline, Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri capered about, tracksuit jacket sleeves yanked up in exasperation as de Bruyne and City's front three simply ran through his midfield and defence.

However, Napoli began the second half like a team that had been slapped around the chops and cleared its head.

Napoli finally pulled one back in the 73rd minute, Amadou Diawara beating Ederson easily from the spot after Fernandinho had tripped Faouzi Ghoulam.

Sarri said his side's performance compared favourably with their last trip to a heavyweight, when they lost 1-3 away to European Champions Real Madrid in the last 16 of last season's competition.

"I've seen a huge step forward compared to the match in Madrid last year," the Italian said.

With nine points from their three games, City should cruise through the rest of this group.

The trip to Napoli in two weeks' time will provide a little more information about Guardiola's evolving team.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'City continue to make huge strides with statement win'. Print Edition | Subscribe