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Superb City are all set to mob Naples

As Manchester City prepare to play in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius tomorrow against Napoli in a decisive Champions League clash, there is a developing sense that, domestically at least, only some kind of natural phenomenon is capable of halting their march to the Premier League title.

Having brushed aside an impressively dogged and disciplined Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, the message to their rivals was ominous -- every challenge that City face, they overcome with flair, power and supreme self-belief.

Europe has proven to be more of a challenge so far this season, however. A defeat against Bayern Munich and a home draw against Napoli on their Champions League debut in September has rendered tomorrow's clash in the intimidating Stadio San Paolo as crucial to City's hopes of qualification.

Win or draw and City can confidently look ahead to the group stages, but a defeat would take qualification out of their hands ahead of the group finale against Bayern at Eastlands.

So despite claiming an 11th victory in 12 league games and matching Newcastle as having the best defensive record in the Premier League by securing another three points against Alan Pardew's team, City's thoughts were focused on Naples as soon as the points were secured.

Manager Roberto Mancini has given the impression that the San Paolo is on a par with the likes of Galatasaray's notorious Ali Sami Yen Stadium as an intimidating bear pit and, with Mario Balotelli returning to the city just two months after being interviewed by local police over apparent links to the Camorra, the Naples mafia, Mancini's call for his players to play the game and not the occasion might not be so easily achieved.


"The focus should only be to play football," Mancini said. "If we concentrate only on the game, then I think we can do well.

"And Mario, no I don't think this (investigation is a distraction) and I don't think he is thinking about what happened. I think that Mario now is in a good way."

Of his own experiences, Mancini added: "I have good memories of Naples. As a player for Sampdoria in the year we won Serie A, we started our run to the championship with a 4-2 win against a Napoli team that included Diego Maradona, but then I was on the bench when Italy lost to Argentina in Naples in the World Cup semi-final in 1990.

"In the home game, we left a lot of space for them to counter-attack.

"Napoli are fantastic at that, with players like Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. They are very dangerous."

City have ironed out the defensive flaws they displayed against Napoli in September, however. Against Newcastle, their parsimonious back four frustrated the visitors until Dan Gosling scored an 89th-minute consolation goal.

Even defenders such as Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy and Micah Richards, all of whom have been criticised in the past for lacking concentration and defensive discipline, have been transformed in recent months.

Richards, whose 44th-minute goal gave City a 2-0 half-time lead following Balotelli's opener from the penalty spot three minutes earlier, showed once again that his continuing absence from Fabio Capello's England squad is an unfathomable.

Lescott has had to overcome similar doubts in Capello's mind to return to prominence at international level and he insists that Richards is still capable of changing the England manager's mind.

"Definitely," Lescott said. "Micah is probably the best in the Premier League and he could probably be one of the best in the world.

"I was disappointed for him and quite surprised (when left out of the last squad). He is doing a lot going forward, but people forget how good he is defensively. I have been disappointed at being left out myself, so I know how he felt."

If Richards needs an example of how perceptions can be changed he need only look at Newcastle under Pardew.

So often derided as a team lacking in defensive structure, Newcastle were well-organised and unfortunate to emerge with a 3-1 defeat.

Newcastle appear to possess the resolve and quality to maintain their impressive start to the season, but with Manchester United next at Old Trafford on Saturday, delivering an immediate response will not be easy.