Champions League Group A
Tuesday 22 November 2011, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta (A Johnson 86), Lescott, Kompany (c), Kolarov, de Jong (Nasri 71), Y Toure, Milner, Silva, Balotelli, Dzeko (Aguero 82)
Unused: Pantilimon, Clichy, Savic, Barry
Goals: Balotelli (33)
Booked: Balotelli, Silva, Kompany, Kolarov
Referee: Damir Skomina
Man of the Match: James Milner
The game started with the visitors doing their best to quieten the home fans by keeping the ball and frustrating the Napoli players. Dzeko connected with his heel to a Zabaleta cross in an attempt at an overhead kick, but he couldn’t direct it goalwards, while Balotelli and Silva waited behind. Yaya Toure then fired a shot well over the bar from the edge of the box, before Balotelli had a go at a curler, but it bounced wide with the goalkeeper left standing.
But it was Hamsik who had the best chance of the opening exchanges, as Yaya Toure gave the ball away in midfield and the home side broke. A cross to the penalty spot picked out the Napoli midfielder and, with a free header, he could only find Joe Hart’s gloves and should have found the back of the net. A neat one-two on the edge of the box gave Lavezzi the chance to shoot, but his drive was just wide of the post.
Dossena played a great ball across the face of the box that needed Lescott to clear, as Napoli broke with a quick free kick, before Dzeko shot well over the bar from the edge of the box. Hart was on form to push an Inler effort over the bar, as the hosts looked to take advantage of their early presure – and from the resulting corner, they did. A low ball into the near post was played in towards Cavani and flicked off Hart’s knee and into the back of the net.
Silva looked for an immediate reply from the edge of the box, but the goalkeeper was right behind it as City looked very shaken. He then slipped at the crucial moment as the visitors looked to breakaway, with Dzeko breaking into the box. Milner received the ball wide right and cut back onto his left foot to put a peach of a ball towards Dzeko, but it was well defended by Cavani, who just got there first.
A neat turn from Dzeko midway into the Napoli half set Silva up for a shot on the edge of the box, but he skewed it wide, with Kolarov free on the left flank for a shooting opportunity. City were stuttering and struggling to get their regular, free-flowing attacks going. Balotelli’s effort on the half hour from 40 yards summed it up – straight into the goalkeeper’s hands.
But then, as City started to press, they got their equaliser. Kolarov fired a low ball into the box and it looked an easy clearance, but it was passed straight to Silva on the edge of the six yard box. His shot was saved, but Balotelli picked up the rebound and, with an open goal, he was never going to miss the tap in.
A brilliant breakaway from City could have given them the lead just before half time, as a great pass from Balotelli found Silva on the edge of the box. The Spaniard took a great touch and set Kolarov in to shoot – the keeper spilled it, but this time there was nobody there to tap in for the visitors and the home side cleared.
But, just as City had been on top at the end of the first half, they found themselves behind virtually straight away. Cavani wasn’t picked up as he broke into the box and a low ball from the left flank picked him out. With a first time, side-footed volley, he smashed the ball past Hart, restoring the hosts’ lead.
A quick free kick was knocked to Silva on the right flank and he crossed early towards Dzeko. The Bosnian got up, but couldn’t climb high enough to connect and Balotelli couldn’t stretch to win it at the back post. Dzeko wanted a penalty for a push, but it would have been harsh. Kolarov was then just offside as he tried to find Balotelli in the box.
Hart was in action just after the hour, as he got a hand to a low cross into the box and, fortunately for the England keeper, there was no home player to latch onto the rebound, meaning he could dive on it at the second attempt. It was a good interception. Hart pulled out a cracking save to keep City in the game after Kompany slipped on 68 minutes, as Lavezzi fired in a low drive at goal.
Kompany dived in to cut out a great ball towards Hamsik, as City were living dangerously and Napoli were looking threatening on the break. And, as City continued to press the Napoli back line, the home side broke away again quickly – resulting in Hamsik skipping past Kolarov and smashing a shot against the post.
A brilliant run from Balotelli was picked out by Silva and he got a decent shot away, but the goalkeeper got a good foot on it and blocked it, keeping the home side in front. Kolarov was caught ball watching and Joe Hart bailed him out with another fantastic save one-on-one with Hamsik. Silva won it back in midfield and Balotelli’s effort was blocked, before the goalkeeper was needed, as the game became stretched.
With just under ten minutes to play, some neat interplay between Nasri, Silva and Zabaleta gave Balotelli the chance to head at goal from the penalty spot, but his free header was over the bar and City were starting to look like a beaten team. Silva worked his way into the box and tried a low cross, but it was blocked behind and, from the resulting corner, the goalkeeper made a good save to keep out Balotelli’s volley.
City were piling on the pressure in the closing stages, looking for their equaliser, as Aguero had a shot pushed behind as he broke into the box. Kolarov smashed two crosses into the area, but Napoli just about got them clear and the home side were hanging on. But City couldn’t create the crucial chance and Napoli sent themselves into the driving seat for second place in the group. City will need something approaching a miracle to make the knock-out stages.