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Pep Guardiola was in a complimentary mood on Tuesday night, after his side maintained their perfect Champions League record with a victory against Napoli which he dedicated to imprisoned Catalan independence leaders.
The two sides top their respective domestic league tables and have played some of the most exciting football on the continent so far this season.
“This is one of the proudest victories of my career,” said Guardiola. “I am so, so proud of my players tonight. We knew it was going to be so, so tough.
“You cannot beat a team as good as Napoli unless you put in really good performance. I really mean that, you have to be so good to beat this Napoli team.”
Their manager may have felt the need to remind onlookers how good this Napoli side have been so far this season, as at the start of the game it merely appeared to be a continuation of City’s dismantling of Stoke at the weekend.
They were 2-0 up within 15 minutes when Raheem Sterling slotted past Pepe Reina after the keeper had blocked an initial shot from Kyle Walker, then just four minutes later Gabriel Jesus was turning in a Kevin De Bruyne cross.
It looked like Saturday’s 7-2 league victory was merely the start of the goal glut, and Napoli were merely the latest victims, but Maurizio Sarri’s side came back into the game. Despite seeing a Dries Mertens penalty saved by Ederson, they made no mistake with a second spot-kick which was tucked away by Amadou Diawara.
“We managed to fight back and not many teams are able to come back in the way we did and cause difficulties for Man City,” said Sarri. “We regret the fact we missed the first penalty, but we know that we are on the right path to be competitive in Europe.”
This is City’s best start to a Champions League campaign by some distance, and a win in the return game against Napoli at the San Paolo would see them well on their way to the knockout stages.
Guardiola used the victory to support Catalan independence leaders Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, who are being held without bail while they are investigated for sedition.
“This win is dedicated to them,” he said. “We have shown in Catalonia that citizenship is bigger than any ideas. We hope they will be released soon.”
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