Trivia: Name the team which had maximum ball possession stats vs the rampant Manchester City this season?
Ans: Shakhtar Donetsk (46% … ahem ahem!)
Manchester City vs Napoli
Welcome to European (UEFA) Champions League Football where only the continental style of play churns out the best team in Europe. Manchester City in their short, impressive Champions League sojourn (four out of six times they have qualified from group stages), actually have a moderate record against Italian teams. 3 wins, 4 losses and 5 draws; the most painful loss of which would have been in the sky blues’ maiden entry to Champions League football in 2011-12. Opponents – Napoli. Napoli then beat City in group stages to eliminate them out from the competition.
Back to the present, Napoli, actually, rival Manchester City’s rapid acceleration off the blocks, with a 100% all win record in Serie A, scoring 26 goals in eight games. The foundation of this team was laid by none other than Rafael Benitez, four years ago. Seven from Benitez’s starting eleven are expected to start at Etihad on Tuesday. By no stretch of imagination, is this going to be an easy encounter.
Best team in Europe currently
Manchester City fans, though, are not believing any of that – they are on a high. Pep Guardiola’s team has scored 37 goals in 11 games this season and let in barely six – two of which were unlucky deflections in this weekend’s Stoke City encounter. Goals that were not meant to be – were originally going off target. Add Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels’ gem, but a freakish goal, in EPL GW3. Meanest defence in Europe, most bullying midfield in Europe and most punishing attack in Europe.
The extent of damage #SharkTeam have inflicted upon opponents is so brutal, that on this date, every team will be scared to meet Manchester City. Napoli, more so. The Partenopei have lost their opening Champions League encounter (to Shakhtar Donetsk) and another loss at Etihad will see their European season come under severe pressure. My gut feeling is they will play for possession and at the same time won’t be too adventurous. A draw will make them overjoyed in a game which will be decided in the midfield.
Napoli’s, ex-Real Madrid, World Cup and double Euro nations cup winning defender, Raul Albiol, places City as the ‘best team in Europe now’. The fans believe so. Led by Benjamin Mendy, they are rallying on renaming the team as #SharkTeam. Before every game, predictions run high… from 2-0 to 6-0! The expectation is for a goal fest. A big reason why Pep is urging supporters to come into the Etihad midweek and witness a fascinating young team bloom. Manchester City fans are now getting upgraded to levels of what Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid fans have been for decades …where a 1-0 clean win isn’t enough, where a scrappy 2-1 win comes under scrutiny. The mood is rapidly changing – not just wins, fans want utter domination, never mind letting in an odd goal.
Thank you, Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al-Mubarak
Kudos to the owner Sheikh Mansour and chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, for plotting this massive step. They patiently waited for this; hired Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano three years ago and stayed certain that they only wanted the best man for the job. One year of Pep Guardiola with no silverware hardly perturbed them. In fact, they backed the coaching team even more. The owners deserve to reap all the rewards and the plaudits. Blue half of Manchester, global Man City fans and fans of good football will forever be thankful to Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al-Mubarak. EPL propaganda experts will continue blabbering ‘tactical gibberish’ nonsense but deep inside what City are displaying now, is exactly what Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wanted.
Pep himself shrugged off the Premier League Manager of the month award (September 2017), when repeatedly questioned by a journalist if he was proud to receive it, with an ‘It’s Ok, Thanks’. Had the correspondent asked something about Kevin de Bruyne or David Silva, he would have got more enlightening and glowing answers. The manager refuses to take credit away from his boys.
Pep haters who want to discredit him will keep mentioning, that he has got enviable squad depth and a bench strength that will walk into most Premier League teams starting XI. What critics will not tell is that Man City bosses (and Pep) purchased a defender (Danilo), a midfielder (Bernardo Silva) and a striker (Gabriel Jesus) for combined money nearly equal that Paul Pogba’s transfer amount. The nett price of the three is a shade above Romelu Lukaku’s move to Manchester United. The star striker had a single shot at goal this weekend vs a team that had conceded 12 goals in 8 league games. Lukaku was busier hacking around Liverpool defenders and very lucky not to have got double carded. You pay mega bucks to get a burly hacker on football’s biggest stage?
As a fan, the choice is yours. You want to see ballet on the football field or frustrating nights in the hope of labouring to a trophy.