Wednesday 21 November 2018

City almost pay penalty despite fantasy football

Manchester City 2-1 Napoli

Manchester City's Leroy Sane takes a shot on goal. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Leroy Sane takes a shot on goal. Photo: Reuters

Tim Rich

The only regret during a first half of fantasy football was that Malcolm Allison did not live to see it.

During United's long years of dominance, they would recall Manchester City's one match in the European Cup. It was 1968 and Allison declared that his club would unleash themselves on the 'cowards of Europe'. They lasted one tie, knocked out by Fenerbahce in the first round.

Almost half a century on and Manchester City have a side that, if they can expunge the defensive looseness that threatened to undermine them after the interval, will terrify Europe.

What would niggle at Guardiola as he reviewed this game was that a night that should have produced an emphatic victory might have slipped away had Napoli converted both their penalties. There was relief mixed in with the cheers at the final whistle.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA

Lawrie McMenemy once said of Allison that he attempted the kind of tactics that First Division managers would only discuss when their annual dinners had reached the whisky and cigars stage.

He would have appreciated the way Manchester City slashed their way through the Napoli defence to the extent that by half hour mark they could easily have led by four.

To Napoli, two would have seemed plenty as Maurizio Sarri's defence was turned and twisted and eventually broken. It was 12 months since they last conceded twice before the interval. Sarri, a habitual smoker, would many times have felt the need to reach for the comfort of the cigarette pack.

The first goal arrived before 10 minutes were up courtesy of Raheem Sterling, who pounced after Kyle Walker's shot was blocked.

Manchester City's John Stones in action with Napoli's Dries Mertens. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's John Stones in action with Napoli's Dries Mertens. Photo: Reuters

There is a theory that Kevin de Bruyne, like his Belgian team-mate, Romelu Lukaku does not perform in 'big games'. As far as De Bruyne is concerned, it is flat-earth nonsense. He had excelled at Stamford Bridge and now, against a team his manager considers one of the best in Europe, he produced a perfect pass that flew between Kalidou Kouliaby's legs and was clipped home by Gabriel Jesus for his fifth goal inside a week.

Then came a moment that was so relaxed it might have appeared on a training pitch. Leroy Sane languidly pulled the ball pack between two Napoli defenders and De Bruyne, carefully, coolly swung a boot that saw the ball crash against the underside of Reina's crossbar and somehow not cross the line.

It appeared academic but Napoli demonstrated the kind of resilience against the odds for which their city has long been renowned and were given a lifeline when Walker held Raul Albiol as the two men contested a cross.

The task of converting the penalty fell to Dries Mertens, but his shot lacked direction and power and Ederson saved with his legs.

Then, Fernandinho conceded the second spot-kick, bringing down Faouzi Ghoulam as the Algerian skipped through. This time, Amadou Diawara demonstrated how it should be done.

In between, Napoli might have scored another as Mertens set up Marek Hamsik, who needed one more to equal Diego Maradona's goalscoring record for the club. But for a dramatic, sliding interception from John Stones this would have been it. (© Independent News Service)

protested that the Yorkshireman haMeanwhile, it emerged before the match that Kevin De Bruyne's representatives plan to use Neymar's eye-watering £32m-a-year deal with Paris St-Germain as a negotiating platform in talks over a new contract for the Belgium midfielder.

De Bruyne has been in outstanding form this season and the club and player are keen to thrash out a new deal more reflective of his standing as one of the world's best midfielders.

The 26-year-old has just under four years left to run on the six-year contract he signed with City when he arrived from Wolfsburg for £55m in 2015.

De Bruyne's existing deal is for a basic £6m a year but it is thought to be worth up to £15.6m annually once a lucrative bonus scheme is factored in.

And now there is the prospect of De Bruyne doubling his money and securing a deal closer to the £600,000 a week, including bonuses, that Neymar, the world's most expensive player, earns at PSG.

Irish Independent

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