Napoli had a good second half and only lost 2-1 to Manchester City, but paid the price for a Dries Mertens saved penalty and awful first 30 minutes.
These two sides were leading their respective league tables (the Partenopei winning all eight rounds) and playing the most beautiful football in Europe, but while Pep Guardiola’s men had a perfect Champions League record in the group, Maurizio Sarri lost the opener 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk. With a huge Serie A showdown against Inter coming up on Saturday, Napoli rested Jorginho and Allan for Amadou Diawara and Piotr Zielinski. Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany missed out for the Citizens, with Sergio Aguero on the bench two weeks after fracturing a rib in a taxi crash in Amsterdam.
These clubs have met before in the Champions League 2011-12 group stage, resulting in a 1-1 draw in Manchester and 2-1 Napoli victory at the San Paolo.
City took the lead within nine minutes, as David Silva ran to the by-line and pulled back for Gabriel Jesus, whose shot was charged down only into the path of Raheem Sterling to finish from 10 yards.
Ederson had to sprint off his line to nod clear from Dries Mertens, but Kevin De Bruyne burst down the right and his low cross for Gabriel Jesus to tap in was not cut out by Raul Albiol.
Gabriel Jesus saw his finish cleared off the line by Kalidou Koulibaly, as Napoli were visibly unaccustomed to sharing possession with a team so similar to them, with high pressing. It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that there was a move even closely resembling the usual Napoli, a Lorenzo Insigne cross to the back post for Jose Callejon intercepted by Ederson.
Moments later, Raul Albiol was hauled down by Kyle Walker for a penalty, but Mertens stepped up and fired the central penalty straight at Ederson.
Mertens tried to make up for it with a shot from distance, but that too was at Ederson, while Pepe Reina parried from Gabriel Jesus at point-blank range.
Napoli were far more their old selves in the second half, as the pressure seemed to be off and they felt free to pass it around. There were still scares, as Albiol’s sliding tackle stopped David Silva and as the move continued, Leroy Sane’s finish was deflected wide.
Just as the Italians were starting to get into their rhythm, Insigne pulled up clutching the back of his thigh and was replaced by Allan. Naturally, the concern will be ahead of Saturday’s Serie A clash with Inter.
Fabian Delph was caught in possession by Allan, but Piotr Zielinski was muscled off the ball as he tried to shoot. Allan did it again with his pressing, so Zielinski rolled across past Ederson for Hamsik, but Stones flung himself in the way to block with his body in front of an open goal.
Elseid Hysaj went off after a nasty clash of heads with David Silva, but Ghoulam dribbled into the box and was tripped by Fernandinho. Mertens left the ball to 20-year-old midfielder Diawara, who converted into the near bottom corner for 2-1.
Gabriel Jesus had the ball in the net moments later, but was offside when he ran on to the De Bruyne through ball.
De Bruyne tried to score a free kick almost directly from the by-line, forcing a Reina save at the near top corner, but at the other end Mertens saw Ederson off his line and fired just wide.
Napoli were pushing hard and Guardiola made a late defensive change to lock down the result.
Manchester City 2-1 Napoli
Sterling 9 (M), Gabriel Jesus 13 (M), Diawara pen 73 (N)
Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva (Gundogan 76); Sterling (Bernardo Silva 70), Gabriel Jesus (Danilo 86), Sané
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj (Maggio 70), Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik (Ounas 78); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne (Allan 56)
Ref: Lahoz (ESP)
Saved penalty: Mertens 39 (N)