Manchester City begin their maiden Champions League campaign as they host Italian side Napoli, who finished third in Serie A last season. Both these sides have been paired with Bayern Munich and Villarreal in Group A, already being called a Group of Death by some.
A lot is expected of the Citizens in their much anticipated first season in Europe since 1968-69, and manager Roberto Mancini knows the pressure to deliver results is on.
I think it is an exciting day for the club. To play in the Champions League after many years is very important, it is a special day.
But I think we took the harder route in the Champions League.
In this group there are four teams who can win the group or finish in fourth position. It will be very hard for every team.
But Manchester City boast one of the most potent attacking forces in this year’s competition with most of the squad already having Champions League experience before joining the Eastlands outfit.
I think this is normal for us. Now Manchester City are one of the best teams in England and Europe.
For us it will be very important to do our job very well in this group. Tomorrow is the first game – the first game is always a difficult game.
Napoli are a good team, last year they did very well in the Italian championship. Several of their players have been capped for their national teams and (Walter) Mazzarri is a very experienced manager. I expect Napoli to be a challenge but a lot of our players have played in the Champions League and I don’t think they will feel pressure for this game.
The limelight might all be on the hosts on Wednesday night but the visitors have been quietly labelled as the dark horses of the tournament.
Napoli are back in European competitions after a twenty year wait and after finishing third in Serie A last season and managing to hold onto their star players throughout the summer, are now ready for a crack at Europe’s elite.
Walter Mazzarri, Napoli’s manager, said:
I live in Naples and can see how people feel. It is our fifth year back in Serie A. Now we are getting into the Champions League and not through the back door. The players have done a lot to bring the team to this level. Both the technical staff and I are very proud.
Players to Watch:
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City):
The Argentine has made a rip-roaring start to life in England and is already been touted as the Golden boot winner. He has previous Champions League experience with Atletico Madrid and could play a huge part in City’s campaign.
Marek Hamsik (Napoli):
With Edinson Cavani leading the line for the visitors, Slovakian midfielder Hamsik could be the key to unlocking the City defense. The game might well be won in midfield and Hamsik needs to stamp his authority from the start and prevent Manchester City from overrunning them in midfield.
Prediction: Napoli could end up surprising the European giants this season, but Manchester City should have enough in their tank to see off the Partenopei and claim their first European victory in over forty years.