Hello and welcome to live solipsistic typed interpretations of Manchester City's trip to Napoli in the Champions League. It should be a genuinely fascinating game and I'm not just saying that: both teams need a win. City will qualify if they can become the first foreign team in 17 years to win at this crumbly old noise-fortress. If Napoli win it all goes to the last round with City needing to win at home to Bayern (who looked several evolutionary cycles more developed in Munich).
City will probably play with that new-found sense of cartwheeling freedom. I was at the Newcastle game at the weekend and my thoughts were: (a) they looked like champions in waiting; and (b) how important the Champions League is by comparison this season is debatable. Nice friendly Roberto Mancini would never say it but City are ingenues in Europe and winning the league is what they really want this year. After which, like the sand people, they will be back and in greater numbers.
Napoli were sluggish at the weekend but they are lightning on the break when they get the space (note to Micah Richards: you may have looked like Cafu up against Ryan Taylor; but even Cafu knew when to stop being Cafu). It's not something you get to say very often but I'm genuinely looking forward to this Champions League group game featuring a defensively-minded Italian team and another team hurled together by the hand of a spendthrift billionaire in need of a Yaya Toure-shaped plaything.
And here are the teams:
Napoli De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica, Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Dossena, Lavezzi, Hamsik, Cavani. Subs Rosati, Grava, Mascara, Santana, Dzemaili, Fernandez, Pandev.
Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Silva, De Jong, Toure Yaya, Milner, Balotelli, Dzeko.
Subs Pantilimon, Johnson, Savic, Aguero, Barry, Nasri, Clichy
So.. Aguero is on the bench, Balotelli gets the chance to go bananas (in a good way) on his return to Italy and Napoli have that fine attacking trio. What a bench City have. Bench scarcely does it justice. Upholstered pew might be closer.
Also: Micah Richards isn't playing. I'm not sure why. He was superb on Saturday but absent completely here. I'm assuming an injury.
Wow, it really is mental in the stadium. What noise. What a mist across the ground. This is proper European football. In the 1970s this would have ended in a brawl and a pitch invasion.
1 min Napoli kick off and Dossena has a little dart into the box. City's first touch is greeted by a vast eruption of boos and whistles. It's that kind of night. Milner has a dart down the right, Zabaleta sticks in a cross and Dzeko has a half-chance that bounces away off his shin. Good start from City in the red and black. They are a machine these days.
4 mins Hamsik has a dart down the right wing and is repelled by Kolarov. Hamsik, whose wife was apparently car-jacked this morning. Hope she's OK. I wonder if he has a themed goal celebration worked out. Maybe a joyride mime or a wrench-the-door-open.
6 mins Toure who, according to Ray Wilkins "has a dig on him" has a shot from diatnce that flies over, but City look veyr composed and calm here. Toure has been in that forward-galloping position quite a lot where he always looks fearsome on the ball, like a landslide rumbling in on goal.
8 mins Balotelli has a low shot from out on the left that skims wide and City are fairly comfortable so far. The crowd aren't quiet - they don't do quiet - but they are less than ear-mangling volume. But wait! Quick break from Lavezzi, cuts it back and Hamsik has a header that Hart catches easily. City looked like they did at home there - too wide open against this team when they lose the ball.
10 mins Here come City again and this is gripping stuff already as Kolarov fizzes a low cross in that's hacked wildly away. Napoli charge back: Lavezzi lays one on a plate for Cavani who shoots very powerfully just wide. Napoli are playing like Floyd Mayweather: crouch behind your hands waiting for an attack, then go suddenly mental on the counter. If City never launched a single attack this would be 90 minutes of passing in the centre circle. Tyson Stephens notes: "I know he's just signed a new contract, but surely Adam Johnson has to get out of City as soon as possible. He's too good at his age to be a Carling Cup player. I can't imagine there are many teams he wouldn't play almost every week for. Surely, more than a lack of talent, this is England's problem: young players with promise are left rotting on benches even after they've shown they can play." If Johnson was a grafter he'd get a game. Flair? Kind of covered already.
13 mins Another lighting quick break from Napoli ends up with Lescott getting a high-kicking foot in the way as Cavani looks to nod Lavezzi's cross goalwards. Fascinating team, Napoli. We just don't this kind of thing in England. There'd be a revolt in the stands. Run! Run all the time!
16 mins Inler launches a rasper from 25 yards that Hart palms over in tumbling fashion, then stands up to yell at various nonspecific people. Harry Stop asks: "is Capello a complete moron for not picking Micah Richards?" It is a bit weird. He's clearly one of England's top five right backs. Or you'd think so anyway.
18 mins GOAL! Napoli 1-0 Man City A terrible goal for City to give away. The corner is swung in to the near post from the left, Cavani gets a little scuff on a flicked header and Kolarov and Hart then both deflect it into the net, Hart the least culpable as it just hits his knee. That ball never should have got in from there, that was pub-esque defending. And the crowd, as ever, have gone ballistic.
21 mins City look a little bewildered. Napoli have slightly stolen that lead, none of the usual pressure you might expect away from home, just some surgical incisions, a corner and very weak defending from City. Mancini is waving and poitning and looking glassy-eyed and let down. And Napli will now retreat and frustrate. Big test for City's stellar midfield to get control of this game again.
24 mins Silva is bveing triple-marked whenever he gets the ball. Note to Premier League teams: maybe, you know, do that too. City do look a bit frazzled ... But wait. Milner floats a deep chipped cross towards the hulking Dzeko, but it's deflected for a corner. Which comes to nothing as City try something clever. Damian Durrant writes: "The lava entombed roman city of Pompeii is just down the road, so dont miss the opportunity to make some suitable metaphorical observations: the Naples back four "turned to stone" by the agility of Dzeko etc etc." Sneak preview there of at leats four English tabloid match report opening pars. "Not far from the lava-encrusted relic of Pompei, it was City's turn to find themselves embalmed beneath a magma-flow of ... etc etc"
27 mins City are still attacking and having masses of possession but Napoli defend very deep and in great numbers, none of that Premier League style charging forward leaving great man-sized holes. There have already been lots of TV close-ups of grimaces from City players. It's one of those. Paul Ruffley sarcasms: "How about putting a man on the posts for corners? Anyone thought of that one before?" Kolarov was that man. He just didn't do much while he was there.
30 mins Balotelli shoots from miles out straight at De Sanctis, who catches it in a manner I can only describe as satirical. Balotelli broods magnificently in response.
33 mins GOAL! Napoli 1-1 Man City. Oh dear and that is calamitous Napoli defending - and some quick work by Silva too. Dzeko's low cross is simply passed straight to Silva inside the area rather than hoofed clear by - I think - Aronica. Silva plays it instantly to Balotelli who scores from two yards. That was ridiculously easy and City really did need that. They deserve to be level too. Napoli look absolutely stunned.
36 mins It is pretty much all City, as it has been for large periods, but at 1-1 Napoli will have to come out a bit now. And oh I say here comes Lavezzi in masses of space behind Zabaleta, but his cross is poor. Amazing how qwuickly some teams can alter their shape and approach without even the need for a man in a suit to shout at them for 15 minutes. Napoli had five men forward there after 15 minutes of total cagey defence.
40 mins Milner, who keeps surprising me with his new-found spring and invention, is having a decent game down the right. He plays Zabaleta in, who lays back to Silva but his flighted cross is grabbed off the tiop of Dzeko's head by the leaping De Sanctis. Seconds later a lovely pass by Balotelli to Silva ends with Kolarov having a blast at goal that De Sanctis blocks by sitting on it. I think City are going wo in this now. They have a way of going up through the gears. Corner now to City.
43 mins Dzeko heads it over, but City had an alarmingly mob-handed posse of jostling giants in the box there. This is a massive team, although you wouldn't have guessed it when Napoli scored. The crowd have gone weirdly quiet.
45+2 mins HALF TIME Napoli 1-1 Man City City ended the half at a confident stroll and they will be well pleased with that after going behind. Napoli are lightning on the break but they really could do with winning this so how they go about that in the second half will be fascinating.
I'm off for a hot beverage from the disappointing plastic machine. Back in a moment with some more "analysis" and more of your views, if indeed anybody out there has any.
More of the same from City in the second half I'd imagine, with perhaps a shunting forward of Toure into his forward-surge role that worked so well at the weekend. I'm not sure if Napoli have another way of playing. Perhaps they have a stick-in-the-mixer for the big man to fight for something see if it drops plan B but it seems unlikely at this stage.
Paul Szabo has this, which is nice.
David Platt says "a little bit more of this in the second half". And City will be hoping to win to avoid a Bayern nail-biter in the final round. Platt is wearing tight black tracksuit trousers with football boots and a shellsuit jacket. Mancini is in an impeccable dark blue suit and tie. Get a grip man.
46 mins City kick us off again and there's an enormous clanging noise from somewhere deep in the Napoli stand, a bit like a lorry load of palletts being dropped off the side of a ship. City keep the ball cautiously for a bit, very wary of being caught in possession by a team who counter attack obsessively.
49 mins GOAL! Napoli 2-1 Man City. What a lovely goal by Cavani. He picks the ball up 35 yards from goal, plays it wide to the left, runs into the box to take the return and sidefoot-volleys the pass though rather than past Hart, who perhaps didn't get down quick enough. Cavani also wasn't really tracked there and City have conceded two unusually slack goals tonight. The crowd, as they do here and will from now on, erupt.
52 mins Suddenly it is all Napoli. Barry and Aguero are wamring up. City do generally come on strong in the second half and scoring three goals is hardly beyond them. But they look unusually clumsy at times in Europe, as thought the pocess of chucking together a Premier League team hasn't quite left space tactically for a midweek one too. Balotelli has been booked now, for whinging. He'll be off soon. Hopefully in the holding up a board with numbers on it sense of the word.
56 mins City look a bit fraught and unhappy. Silva is having a go at someone now accusing him of diving. Foreigners, David, foreigners. And Ian Copestake observes helpfully "Having "a dig on him" is something tortoises live with day in day out." And Gary Naylor has a wonderful tabloid intro for us: "How about - Sophia Loren, the most famous daughter of Naples, has her much admired and photographed embonpoint adorning every bar in the city, but Napoli's boobs were all at the back as they gifted Manchester City etc etc etc. Not very Guardian that is it?" It's got gratuitous tits. They'll love it. In fact they'll put the whole paragraph in bold.
58 mins Inler is off. Dzemaili is on. Inler seems to be suffering from some form of back-knack. Either that or he was just striking a Larry Grayson-style pose for effect. "Crisis time for City says Martin Tyler", but it's only a mild crisis at the moment. They have half an hour and Naopoli will give them time on the ball.
61 mins And there's a lovely little smart free-kick routine from City, the ball rolled to Silva who whips a dinked cross towards the pack of vast jostling men in the box, but the ball drifts away from Balotelli's lunge. And Silva is now booked for dissent too. City need to stay patient. I'm convinced they will score again. Napoli are only so-so.
64 mins Having said that here they come again down the left and Hart is a little fortunate as Lavezzi slips when he might have pounced on a loose ball fisted out as he sprawled to meet a cross. Actually, Hart did quite well, but again City were quite open in the right back position. Where is Richards anyway? City could really do with his bullocking forward power right now.
67 mins Hamsik and Gargano are having more of a say in things now. If you haven't seen Hamsik's hair by the way it's hard to do justice to: imagine the over-stylized mohicaned punk on a Carnaby Street post card, but toned down slightly for a day at the office after a weekend photo shoot. Amazing it's still erect after 67 minutes. Nasri is coming on.
69 mins Great save by Hart. Hamsik's lovely pass puts Lavezzi in, he skips past Kompany who fell over, but his powerful shot is saved convincingly by Hart, who has had a very good game here. City are teetering a bit. And De Jong has come off, with Nasri coming on and Milner dropping back a bit. Only Aguero and Johnson to come and that's pretty much a six man attack.
73 mins No word from the TV about why Richards isn't among the subs. Have I missed something there? Here come City down the right in the shape of the underwhelming Zabaleta but his cross is weak and it's headed clear by the massed light blue defenders. City having lots of the ball, but pointlessly and without much width. Lescott launches a massive booming long punt high above the roof of the stand. And why not? Oh. That's why not.
76 mins Wondrous dribble from Silva takes him past two players but beating a fifth and a sixth proves a bit too much. And... Oh my word Hamsik hits the post on a Napoli break. Takes the ball down, skips inside Kolarov too easily and absolutely whacks it against the post, the ball pinging right back at him and then away. That really would have been curtains. As it is it's no more than a half set, maybe a working pelmet.
79 mins Balotelli is unlucky not to score with a lovely piece of refined technique, shooting on the volley as the ball is played though to him in the air, but De Sanctis saves well. Moments later Harrt, who has been superb, again saves city - this time "making himself big" to save with his chest from Maggio in a last-ditch one-on-one. It's all getting distinctly hairy. The shadow of not wanting to have to beat Bayermn top go through is really hanging over this match now.
82 mins Dzeko is off, Aguero is on. Dzeko has been poor tonight, and surprisingly clumsy for such a big man with surprisingly good feet for such a big man. Oh dear. Balotelli heads over when he might have scored. A lovely run and cross by Nasri on to Silva's through pass. On Richards Spencer Jones says: "I remember him taking a few bashes on Saturday and walking pretty gingerly (one from hart, one for the pen) so I suspect it may just be from that. Nothing to support that though." He did look tired by the end. Did a lot of running.
85 mins De Sanctis saves, or at least stands in front of a boucning volley from Balotelli straight from a corner. Then he sprawls about dramatically looking for sympathy and/or acclaim. Moments later he saves again, this time from Aguero. City are really pushing now. And Francis Lee, who can't be that Francis Lee writes: "If Bayern go through as group winners tonight, they might rest the odd player but are not the kind of club to field a second XI for the last game (even if it is away). They've got Olic and Müller on the bench tonight. Just as well for City that Schweinsteiger is out until the end of the year. But come on Napoli!".
87 mins Kolarov is booked for fouling Lavezzi on a breakaway. Deep, rich, peaty defensive cynicism there. Still City keep coming, it's a pinball situation in the Napoli box with Nasri and Johnson(who has come on) to the fore, but the ball is hacked clear. Ian Copstake has some Richards news - and it's in foreign "From the local newswires here: "Micah Richards wird Manchester City für weitere vier Spielzeiten zur Verfügung stehen." Not sure if this means he is unwell, been arrested or gone shopping."
89 mins City are launching it forward now like it's the last minute of an FA Cup tie in 1976. Still no real clear cut chances though. It is all terribly tense. Much managerial pointing on the touchline. Napoli are very close to having qualification in their own hands and City to facing a Bayern-shaped exit door.
90+2 mins time for a last chance for City? Balotelli twists and turns and he's nudged out of it and that might well be it. Johnson crosses but it's over-hit by miles and really, that should be it. Mancini looks a little distraught on the touchline poor chap
90+3 mins FULL TIME Napoli 2-1 Man City And that is that. Nine wins on the bounce for City comes to a halt and they are now teetering on the verge of being right on the edge of going out of the Champions League. Napoli need to win in Villareal, or just get the same result as City against Bayern - who have now qualified - and it will be all over for now.
Two goals for Cavani, who City will now presumably buy for £35m and occasionally bring off the bench. They played this very well, sticking to their counter-punch game plan and taking two of their several very good chances.
That is all from me for now. Thanks for your emails. Good bye. Barney.