When Maurizio Sarri suggested before Tuesday's Champions League Group F encounter that facing Manchester City filled him with more dread than the prospect of playing Real Madrid, there was a suspicion the famously chain-smoking Napoli coach was blowing a fair bit of the stuff.
After 13 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, with Pep Guardiola's Premier League leaders 2-0 up and running riot, it felt like a succinct prophecy a little too grim and accurate for the impressive number of travelling supporters from the south of Italy.
The pre-match pleasantries were unrelentingly pleasant. Guardiola anointed Napoli as one of the three best footballing sides in Europe and his team seemed to get the message.
City opened with a maniacal intensity – if Napoli were as good as their boss said they were, they were not about to hang around and find out.
There was a subtle tactical shift from Saturday's 7-2 evisceration of Stoke City. Along with slicing through their opponents with cutting short passes, a key part of the approach from Guardiola's men was to use Fernandinho as a means of quickly switching play to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane on the flanks.
Both wingers were involved as Sterling scored his eighth of the season and Gabriel Jesus joined him on that number as the imperious Kevin De Bruyne added to his catalogue of assists.
For all the talent in this City XI, De Bruyne appears increasingly irreplaceable the better they get. Being spoken of in the same breath as Lionel Messi before the game – Guardiola was keen to dial down the hyperbole – did little to throw the Belgium international. He was running the show again, he hit the bar and Jesus had one cleared off the line.
For the first half hour, Napoli were the punch-drunk boxer lolling on the ropes. But their heads cleared and suddenly it was Guardiola's fears being played out.
Errors crept into City's increasingly skittish defensive play, none more so than when Kyle Walker groped unhelpfully at Raul Albiol and gave away a penalty. Dries Mertens has nine goals already this season but took the spot-kick of a man seemingly without that many in a lifetime. Ederson saved. The Etihad roared.
That Napoli's resolve was not instantly drained by that setback is to their immense credit and the performance by Sarri's men from that point should chill misfiring Serie A champions Juventus.
City were the side grateful for the half-time whistle, at which point De Bruyne's uncharacteristic rage with the fourth official highlighted their fraying focus.
There was plenty more luck to be ridden during the second period, when John Stones blocked desperately from Marek Hamsik and escaped punishment for handball. A second penalty arrived, Fernandinho's tired clump at Faouzi Ghoulam encapsulating the final half hour as De Bruyne's artistry did the first.
"I'm not here to entertain, I'm here to win," Guardiola said after the Stoke match. As defender Danilo came on for Jesus in the 87th minute it was clear this was no joke either. Jose Mourinho does not have a Mancunian monopoly on pragmatism.
Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne and Sane no longer tore at the Napoli defence; they wasted time in the corner. A beautiful start spawned an ugly finish but City held on.
The mere act of doing so felt significant for a club still looking to make themselves at home in the Champions League in their seventh season at the top table.
Also, City won their first five matches in 2015-16 and the opening 10 last term before collapsing under scrutiny.
Many of these players have followed storming starts with cold, hard and unforgiving winters in Manchester. By beating Napoli 2-1, Guardiola's current crop showed they have enough reserves to keep the fires burning.
|Schurrle excited to finally link up with Reus and Gotze|
|Fit-again Hughes included in England squad|
|New number one Federer revels in ´unbelievable´ week|
|Real Madrid defender Marcelo suffers hamstring injury|
|Costa fumes referees ´want to give me a card´, but Simeone plays down penalty row|
|Thiem regains Argentina Open title|
|Stoger makes Dortmund history with Gladbach win|
|Championship Review: Leeds fight back for point, Norwich & Ipswich share derby spoils|
|Racing beat La Rochelle to go second, Castres edge out Bordeaux|
|Borussia Monchengladbach 0 Borussia Dortmund 1: Burki unbeatable as Reus returns to haunt Foals|
|FA Cup ´magic´ no surprise to Pochettino after Rochdale thriller|
|Rochdale hero Davies: This is every kid´s dream|
|Atletico Madrid will not stop in pursuit of Barcelona, promises Gameiro|
|Banks boot pays dividends for Treviso|
|Lucky 13 and second successive title for Kvitova after Muguruza classic|
|´Wrong image´ to blame for VAR confusion in Manchester United´s FA Cup win|
|Rochdale 2 Tottenham 2: Davies denies Kane in FA Cup classic|
|Rieder stretchered off as Wasps extend Chiefs´ slump|
|Atletico Madrid 2 Athletic Bilbao 0: Gameiro and Costa settle cagey clash|
|NHL commissioner Bettman condemns ´reprehensible´ Smith-Pelly abuse|
|Visser, Scott and Nel among six recalled by Scotland|
|Bhuvneshwar and Dhawan inspire India´s Wanderers win|
|Napoli set club record with another Serie A win|
|Froome disappoints in time trial as Wellens wins Ruta del Sol|
|Napoli 1 SPAL 0: Allan sends hosts top of Serie A again|
|Federer makes short work of disappointing Dimitrov|
|Allegri allays Higuain injury fears|
|Blackhawks fans ejected after racist heckling of Capitals´ Smith-Pelly|
|Allegri convinced Juve can get past Spurs|
|Sri Lanka sweep series after dominating Bangladesh|
|Everton fear ´long-term´ injury for Mangala|
|If it isn´t Madrid, it´s Paris - Hazard tires of speculation|
|Luiten claims Oman Open title|
|Torino 0 Juventus 1: Champions win derby but lose Higuain|
|Neymar exit made Barcelona stronger - Ter Stegen|
|Remove T20 cricket from international schedule - Bayliss|
|Injured Higuain forced off against Torino|
|Jesus confident of returning strong after knee injury|
|DeGale launches Twitter attack on beaten Eubank Jr|
|We had to change hotels – Ovrebo recalls fury after 2009 Chelsea-Barcelona semi-final|
|Spalletti: Inter board will decide my future|
|Munro blitz helps Black Caps progress despite defeat|
|Fabregas still wary of timeless Iniesta|
|Liverpool´s 30-goal hero Salah: There´s more to come|
|Valverde: Coutinho dropped for the good of Barcelona|
|Garcia floors Rios for ninth-round TKO|
|Ronaldo better than Neymar? No says Xavi|
|Donovan Mitchell caps NBA All-Star challenges with dunk success|
|Anderson outlasts Nishikori to reach New York Open final|
|Steve Nash, Ray Allen among Basketball Hall of Fame finalists|
|Kevin Love: It was necessary to clean house in Cleveland|
|Real Madrid hurt you with nothing – Xavi says PSG loss an injustice|
|Conte: Chelsea need perfect game to stop Messi and Barcelona|
|LeBron James thanks Ingraham as Cavs All-Star vows to speak his mind|
|Archer says Rays could have best rotation in baseball|
|Bubba Watson takes lead with 65 at Genesis Open|
|Inter in a fragile moment, says Spalletti|
|Groves batters Eubank Jr to retain WBA crown|
|Montpellier see off plucky Oyonnax, Ashton stars in Stade mauling|
|Booed Emery praises PSG´s mental strength|
|Cavani hails ´good reaction´ as PSG bounce back in style|
|Thiem breezes past Monfils to set up Bedene showdown|
|Mourinho wants referees to have final say on VAR|
|Genoa 2 Inter 0: Pandev piles misery on old employers|
|Manchester United to host Brighton in FA Cup quarter-finals|
|Leinster see off Scarlets as Munster come up short in Cardiff|
|New No.1 Federer earns gritty Seppi win to book Rotterdam final|
|Mata ´still up for VAR´ despite disallowed goal at Huddersfield|
|Valverde: Barcelona had to suffer at Eibar|
|Championship Review: Fulham end Villa run, Cardiff pounce|