The two meetings between Manchester City and Napoli were billed as must-watches when the Champions League draw was made. The first was entertaining and saw the Premier League side record a home victory, but today’s match at the San Paulo bettered it for spectacle and exciting football. The Serie A leaders started like a house on fire and took the lead after a spell of sustained pressure through Lorenzo Insigne. The visitors bounced back thanks to a Nicolas Otamendi header before half-time. From that stage, they controlled the game and looked the better side, earning a deserved 3-2 win to put them into the next round of the competition. Here are three talking points from the match:
Manchester City are good enough to win the Champions League
The Champions League campaign of the 2016/17 season was a disappointing one and marked Pep Guardiola’s worst in the competition. Manchester City competed well in the group stages, but fell to a defeat in the round of 16 to Monaco. The second leg will have frustrated the City boss as his side fell behind early and failed to react in a convincing fashion. On Wednesday, the early stages were reminiscent of the match at the Stade Louis II, but this time, the Citizens bounced back and got back on level terms before half-time.
After half-time, they kicked on and showed their dominance with some great football. It was important to get an early goal to put themselves into the lead and they showed their ability to react again after being pulled back to 2-2. Guardiola will be pleased by the way that the team managed the game after they scored the third. They kept the ball well and tired Napoli before adding a fourth. This performance sent a message to the rest of Europe. Manchester City are serious contenders for the Champions League.
Napoli are serious contenders for the Serie A title
The Italian team bounced back to the European stage at a similar time to Manchester City and these two sides played out two great matches during the 2011/12 season. Napoli came out on top and qualified for the round of 16 on that occasion. Since then, the Neopolitans have been trying to progress into a team capable of winning major honours. Their last Serie A title came in 1990 and there had been hope of breaking that duck in the near future.
This current Napoli team look the most ready to put an end to that run. Maurizio Sarri is one of the best coaches in Europe and comes from the Pep Guardiola school of football. The Manchester City praised his opposite number in the build-up to this match and he would have been left impressed by the football played by the Italians. They went toe-to-toe with the Premier League leaders and provided them with their toughest test of the season so far.
Guardiola understands the importance of set-pieces
The focus of this season has been the excellent brand of football being played by Manchester City. They are scoring a lot of goals and playing teams off the park on a weekly basis. However, Pep Guardiola hasn’t ignored the importance of set-pieces and they were responsible for the first two City goals on Wednesday. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones both chipped in with goals and that will please their manager.
West Brom and sides like that have been criticised for their reliance on set-pieces, but the reason lesser teams choose to function on them is that they can be heavily practiced. It is possible to perform open play drills, but situations can’t be predicted from game to game. Set pieces can and Manchester City are clearly using them effectively to add to their goal threat.