Champions League Group A
Wednesday 14 September, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Kolarov (Clichy 76), Y Toure, Barry, Silva, Nasri (A Johnson 76), Dzeko (Tevez 81), Aguero
Unused: Pantilimon, K Toure, Savic, Richards
Goals: Kolarov (74)
Referee: Jonas Eriksson
Man of the Match: Yaya Toure
City got their first ever Champions League game off to a fast start, taking the initiative to the visiting side and looking for an early goal. Nasri came close with a low drive that flashed just wide of the post, before Silva had an effort from a free kick deflected over the bar. City were well on top, stopped only by last-ditch tackles or even edge of the box fouls.
Dzeko then couldn’t quite control a low cross into the box, but Aguero was on hand to pick up the pieces, though his shot was just wide of the post. A neat move between Aguero and Dzeko then left the Bosnian with a shooting chance, but the missed by the narrowest of margins as the goalkeeper threw himself at it.
But Napoli soon began to show why they shouldn’t be underestimated. Kompany dived in on the edge of the box and didn’t win the ball, leaving Lavezzi the chance to turn in the box. He did and looked to place his shot in the top corner; Hart was beaten, but it bounced down off the bar and Kolarov was able to clear.
With ten minutes of the half remaining, City struck the bar, too. A brilliant move left Silva with the ball on the by-line inside the box and he got his head up to find Yaya Toure. His first time effort smashed past the goalkeeper and crashed into the crossbar, but it didn’t bounce over the line and the visitors were off the hook.
It was the home side who looked more likely to take the lead as the half approached, with Kolarov whipping a delicious free kick into the box. It missed everybody and would have snuck in had it not been for a fine save from De Sanctis.
The second half saw City go close again: Gareth Barry found himself with the ball in the box, but he was crowded out and his turn and shot wasn’t troubling the visiting defence. Napoli then hit the post through Hamsik after his effort took a nick off Kompany.
Both Aguero and Lescott then had chances shot over the bar: the striker volleyed over with a cheeky attempt, before the defender had a free header in the box from a corner, but he couldn’t direct it goalwards.
But then the visitors stepped it up a gear. There were warning signs for City, as the first Napoli breakaway could have caused more danger but for an off-target shot, before Kompany had to be on the line to clear from behind Hart, after Hamsik’s shot beat the City keeper.
And City didn’t take notice of the warning signs: With just over 20 minutes to go, Barry gave the ball away on the edge of the opposition’s box and the visitors broke with speed. Kompany was left with a two-on-one situation and Cavani had space to shoot. He didn’t need a second invitation and he slotted the ball through Hart’s legs to give the Italian side the lead. It had been coming and City learnt they would be punished for not taking their chances at this level.
City then hit the bar again as they looked to respond immediately. Aguero had an effort from inside the six-yard box, reacting instinctively to get his shot in. It beat the goalkeeper, but clipped the post and away to safety.
The equaliser, though, wasn’t long in coming. Zabaleta won a free kick on the edge of the box and Kolarov stepped up to take it. He whipped it up and over the wall, sweeping it into the bottom corner: the goalkeeper was rooted to the spot, although he’ll probably be disappointed to have been beaten by it.
The goal lifted City and it was the home side who looked more likely to go on to win. Dzeko narrowly missed, before a spell of City pressure almost let the visitors in. A clearance bounced towards Kompany and, in trying to keep the game moving, he opted for the backpass to Hart and not to let the ball go out for a throw-in. His pass, though, was short and the City keeper could only clear into the forward’s foot on the slide. The home fans were pleased to see it bounce behind, with Hart stranded.
In the end, City were the dominant team and should probably have done better with the amount of possession and pressure they had. But, having fallen behind, a point in the opening game isn’t the end of the world: it could have been better, but, equally, it could have been a whole lot worse.