Manchester City’s record-matching start to their 2017/18 Premier League campaign has just been bettered! The 28 points garnered off 10 games – a record set by Chelsea in 2005/6, emulated by Manchester City before in 2011/12 – had been matched this season, domestically, by mighty FC Barcelona & Maurizio Sarri’s FC Napoli. If this sounded impressive, then the flash news is that Napoli FC have further stretched things by moving the milestone three points ahead! The Italians won their 11th league game last night to lead Serie A with 31 points.
Napoli’s Do or Die day
Wednesday night’s upcoming Champions League group stage encounter between Napoli and Manchester City has more at stake for the Partenopei than for their glamorous visitors. The English giants lead the Group F table with nine points and if FC Shakhtar Donetsk don’t let Feyenoord upset them, then the Ukrainian team will have nine points by end of matchday four. Napoli start the matchday with three points and need a win to stay afloat. A draw or loss for them, coupled with an expected Shakhtar win, will put their Champions League journey into deep jeopardy. All their Serie A conquering stats will suddenly pale in merit and every discussion come in with a big disclaimer. For the Partenopei this is a must-win game.
In the reverse encounter at the Etihad stadium, couple of weeks ago, FC Napoli were the better team in the second half and a missed first-half penalty deprived them of a deserved draw. Aside Shakthar, they are the only team this season to manage 40%+ possession vs Manchester City. They have the tools, the team, style, possession game, home advantage, City’s relative Champions League away games inexperience and Pep Guardiola’s shocking away record, in their favour. What goes against them is the ‘must win’ pressure – a pressure which doesn’t afford them to make mistakes; any mistake.
Guardiola’s shocking away record
Guardiola’s away record in Champions league vs quality teams is nowhere close to his glittering career stats. At Bayern Munich, his nine knockout Champions league away games, over three years, saw just one win amongst four draws and losses.
Since joining Manchester City, his Champions League away record has losses against Barcelona and Monaco; draws against unfancied Celtic and Monchengladbach; and wins over unfancied Steaua Bucharest and Feyenoord. The data clearly demonstrates that come a big away game and Guardiola does fall short – frankly the only chink in his, less than decade-long, outstanding career.
Man City’s stakes
In light of the above, ManCity will be happy coming back from Italy with a draw. A win will cement their Group F topping ambitions and also give room to rotate and rest their first team players, come the busy December period. Manchester City do have over-reliance on few players in three different areas of the field. Those players need rest time to time. This is a crucial aspect of the #SharkTeam balance which is literally going unnoticed under the plethora of fantasy football goals, scored by them.
ManCity’s uneven workload distribution
Of the seven players who have clocked >600 mins on field this season for City, the centre-backs (Otamendi 881 mins, Stones 766 mins), the holding midfielder (Fernandinho 871 mins) and playmakers (David Silva 874 mins, De Bruyne 842 mins) are the positions where Guardiola doesn’t have ‘almost par quality’ backup. Bernardo Silva is still finding his feet, fragile Ikay Gundogan is a very suspect backup and Yaya Toure is no more regular first team material. Add to that Fabian Delph has now been forced to be the permanent left back. In centre back positions, Mangala isn’t a strong backup and Kompany’s future and fitness are now forever unknown.
Just compare Otamendi’s 881 minutes to Leroy Sane’s 588 minutes, that’s 50% more workload. Yet Guardiola doesn’t really have the option to rest Otamendi or any from his preferred eleven (aside from Gabriel Jesus) for this game; and with an important home Premier League game vs Arsenal coming up, not much room for fresh injuries either.
So while City fans, clearly on a career high, are going bold with 2-0 to 4-1 winning predictions, Pep Guardiola will be happy just to escape Naples with a draw and more crucially, no player injured. This will be ManCity’s toughest test yet this season. They will, though, reflect on the first half vs the same opponents at The Etihad, where the sky blues could have easily gone 5-0 up. Man City will start Wednesday night just as aggressively and hope for an early lead. That’s their best bet in improving Guardiola’s away record in Champions league games.
For Napoli, it’s a do or die game, virtually!