Football

Neville warns Guardiola's men: Winter is coming

GROUP F
NAPOLI MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City's blistering start to the season has led to talk of the Citizens emulating Arsenal's Invincibles of 2003/04, but Gary Neville has cautioned: Winter is coming.

Pep Guardiola's table-topping team hold the record for the best start to a season in Premier League history after winning all but one of their 10 matches, boasting a plus-29 goal difference in the process.

City also lead Champions League Group F with a 100 per cent record after three matches.

Ahead of their toughest European test so far, away to Serie A leaders Napoli, former Manchester United and England stalwart Neville pointed out that the last two seasons saw a marked drop in performance for City after a blazing start.

During that period, the Citizens averaged 2.3 points per game between August and October, before slumping to below 1.8 points per game from November to January.

Neville said on Sky Sports: "If you look at Manchester City's last two seasons, one under Manuel Pellegrini and one under Guardiola, and you look at November, December and January - they probably would have won two titles in those two seasons if they'd have maintained their championship-winning level.

"If they drop to that level in November, December and January again, then they'll be in trouble.

"Those are the toughest months to play football - the games, the weather, the injuries, the stockpile of fixtures, the Champions League, the Christmas period…

"Can they get through to February, March and April when the weather gets better again and it's an easier time of year to play football?

"My view is that has cost them in the last two seasons and, if they can get through those three months, then it could be one of the most outstanding performances."

City's so-called winter season begins at the Stadio San Paolo tomorrow, and City midfielders Fernandinho and Yaya Toure warned that the atmosphere at the 60,000-capacity venue could help decide the match.

Fernandinho told Manchester Evening News: "We don't have atmospheres like this in the Premier League, so it will be the first time for some guys, and I hope it doesn't make a difference for us...

"Most of our young players don't know how it is, especially when you go to South America, where you have to go away to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

"They try to do everything to disturb you, but I hope our team can be 100 per cent focused and it doesn't make any difference on the pitch."

Toure, meanwhile, told Gazzetta dello Sport: "The San Paolo is a stadium which doesn't leave you indifferent, even as an opponent. Support like Napoli's strengthens a team.

"As a City player, I'm not intimidated by it, but I'm worried by the way it fires up the home team. In times of difficulty, fans like the ones in Naples can be decisive."

Napoli have won four of their five home games against Premier League opposition, drawing the other. The Partenopei have also only lost just two of their last 23 European home fixtures, with their last defeat coming against eventual champions Real Madrid in last season's Champions League Round-of-16 tie.

After last month's 2-1 win over Napoli, Guardiola said the Serie A leaders are one of the best teams in Europe and ranked the result as "one of the wins I'm most proud of in my whole career".

Toure was similarly effusive, saying: "Napoli play some of the best football in Europe, and beating them was something to be proud of.

"Their coach Maurizio Sarri is seen as an innovator of Italian football and, going by what I saw that night, it's a fair definition."

Leicester City's title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri added that while City should be considered among the Champions League favourites this term, Napoli could be dark horses.

The Italian told Corriere dello Sport: "Napoli have improved their side, some youngsters like (Marko) Rog are now fully integrated in Sarri's tactics. They could have a shot at it."

Sarri, however, dismissed such talk, saying: "Taking part (in the Champions League) is a cause for pride, although in the back of our minds we know we have only a small chance of winning it...

"I think that for the last two or three months, Manchester City have been the strongest team in Europe." - WIRE SERVICES

 

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