City as good as Barcelona says Mancini
Published 21/11/2011 | 05:00
Micah Richards sent a tweet while still playing right-back in the second half. Well, maybe his people sent it for him, like Lar Corbett did when urging people to go to his bar before the final whistle had blown on this year's Munster hurling final.
The idea of Richards holding off Newcastle United while holding an electronic device was not actually beyond the bounds of possibility, though. That's how average the lauded opposition really were.
Richards' performance prompted Joleon Lescott, who was surprised by his friend's omission from the last England squad, to suggest he is not far off being "one of the best in the world".
City boss Roberto Mancini was similarly enthusiastic about his side's performance, claiming they are now operating at the same level as Europe's elite clubs.
"We (have) started the season very well and this confidence is important for the team," he said. "I don't think we are better than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, but probably we are at the same level."
City's flight today to Naples, where victory tomorrow night will see them qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League, should put things in a more realistic perspective.
City might be sweeping all domestic records aside -- 34 points from 36 is a start unmatched in the Premier League -- but it has been in Europe that they have been shown up as mere mortals.
Positionally, Richards and his sorties up the right were a disaster in the 2-0 defeat at Bayern Munich, so much so that Mancini didn't play him in Villarreal, where the going was easier. It's why the manager's talk of Richards needing to "pick up his brain" before heading out to the pitch was a carefully calibrated message to him.
If selected, Richards will face Argentinian midfielder Ezequiel Lavezzi, cutting inside from the left with his dangerous right foot.
There's also some raw emotion about tomorrow. The match takes Sergio Aguero, whose wince as he trudged from the field on Saturday signalled nothing more than cramp, onto the turf trodden by his father-in-law Diego Maradona.
The Napoli legend will not be present however, having flown home to Buenos Aires where his mother Dona Tota died at the weekend.
It takes Mancini to the city from which his mother, Marianna, and wife, Federica both hail, for his first serious match back on home soil.
"Juventus in the Europa League last season wasn't so important because we'd qualified," he reflected, late on Saturday. And it takes a fool to predict the consequences of placing Mario Balotelli before nearly 60,000 baying Italians in the place where he has appeared recently in a court case against the local Camorra mafia.
"I played 20 years in Naples and six years as a manager and I have never had a problem," Mancini insisted. "Mario now is in a good way, I don't think he can have a problem." Balotelli described Naples this summer as "a beautiful city with beautiful sunshine" and seemed to be making eyes at the club.
There'll be love and hate for him, but much more of the latter.
City carry with them a domestic confidence which is beginning to look formidable, with the psychological benefits of a certain 6-1 win having proved even more profound than we imagined it would be.
"Their confidence is very high," sighed Alan Pardew, consoled at least by the flashes of brilliance of a restored Hatem Ben Arfa.
"You can see a real belief about them. Whether we catch another team in that mode again, I don't know. I certainly hope not."
What impresses most is that for a side who play so beautifully, City are so very muscular.
The resurgent James Milner is particularly underrated. There is no suggestion that Carlos Tevez will be back this week, incidentally, though nobody cares much any longer.
Napoli will be ready. The Champions League is everything to Italy as Serie A continues to fade miserably away as a spectacle.
"We left a lot of space in the home game and they are very good on the counter-attack," Mancini recalled. Richards will have his hands full this time. (© Independent News Service)