Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, admitted last night that his side have only a 30 per cent chance of progressing to the Champions League knock-out stage, on another disappointing night in Europe for the Manchester clubs.
Manchester United also face possible group stage elimination, in the unlikely event of them losing in Basle on 7 December, following a 2-2 draw at home to Benfica – though it is City who seem destined for the Europa League after their defeat in a cauldron at Napoli.
"I would give a 70 per cent chance to Napoli and 30 per cent to Manchester City," said Mancini, whose side need to beat Bayern Munich at home and then rely on a poor Villarreal side – who are yet to win in Group A – to draw with, or beat, Napoli. Mancini said he had faith in the Spaniards. "It obviously doesn't depend on us but if Villarreal give a good match they will get a result," he said.
Despite City's greater possession in the 2-1 defeat inflicted by two Edinson Cavani goals, Napoli were denied by three top-class saves by Joe Hart and Mancini was left to answer another series of questions about Mario Balotelli – who played despite reporting sickness on Monday. "He was sick yes, but he didn't have any problems," Mancini said. "It's not his [grass] allergy. He was sick yesterday, a fever, nothing serious. It was not serious enough for him not to play, it was only a small fever."
Balotelli was also pictured with his girlfriend, Raffaella Fico, at a pizzeria in Naples on Monday evening though the manager insisted this was acceptable. "He had my permission to say hello to his girlfriend [last night] for half an hour in a pizzeria in Naples," Mancini said. "But he scored a goal, so maybe I should have sent all of my players to a pizzeria."
City conceded two poor goals but their manager insisted that they simply lost undeservedly. "We conceded two goals that we shouldn't have done," he said. "There is nothing to explain. We are a strong team and we always play to win, but you can occasionally lose matches in the Champions League. We have another game in the group, but if we don't qualify, then we have the Europa League."
That would be a financial calamity to City, who were watched last night in Stadio San Paolo by owner Sheikh Mansour and need the revenues to help reduced the record financial losses which jeopardises their chances of complying with Uefa's financial fair play regime. But Mancini said that "our life doesn't finish if we don't go through. Our target was to go to the second stage, but at this moment, we depend on other teams."
Sir Alex Ferguson said last night that United did not fear playing the biggest teams in Europe in the first knockout round after their draw with Benfica left them likely to finish second in Group C.
Ferguson said: "The opportunities to play Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. You have to judge that this way: if you played them in the semi-final or the final, you would be only too delighted, knowing the possibility is to win the trophy. The clubs we will face will know that too.
"I think we did well [against Benfica] It is hard when you lose a goal so early in the match with the own goal and it took us a bit of time to get our rhythm going again. Once we did, we played really well. We did not deserve what happened tonight, but football can be like that."