Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Steve Mitchell On September - 14 - 2011

Champions League Preview - Manchester City v Napoli

So after 20 years the long wait is nearly over for Napoli as they embark on their first season in the Champions League since the glory days of the late 80′s and early 90′s, an era in the club’s history dominated by Diego Maradona. Now its the turn of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik to display their abundant talents in European football’s premier competition.

Drawn in the so-called “group of death” the Partenopei have been paired with Villarreal from Spain and German superpower Bayern Munich, but it is their opening day assignment at the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City that will set the tone for the rest of the group stage.

When Azzurri coach Walter Mazzarri walked off the pitch at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi on Saturday night his spirits would have been sky-high. He had just seen his team lay down a domestic marker beating Cesena 3-1 in a scintillating game on the opening weekend of Serie A. When he arrived home in the early hours of Sunday morning, his attention would have immediately turned to Wednesday night’s Euro blockbuster and after watching the DVD of Roberto Mancini’s side’s demolition of Wigan, the true scale of what lies ahead in Manchester would have hit home.

The big question is can the Partenopei return to the peninsula with a positive result on Wednesday evening? The short answer is yes but Mazzarri knows his team will have to play at their brilliant best for 90 minutes. All over the pitch there are fascinating match-ups that will be key in the overall outcome of the game. Midfield supremacy is paramount with Manchester City’s Ivorian colossus Yaya Toure going head-to-head with Napoli’s new midfield general Gokan Inler.  Nicknamed “the lion” the 27-year-old Swiss international will have to play with the heart of one to help gain control of the central areas and give his side a platform on which to build.

Another mouth-watering confrontation will be that between City’s stand-out player this season, Spaniard David Silva, and Ezequiel Lavezzi, now embarking on a stage where his supreme talent can be showcased. Lavezzi was sensational on Saturday night and Mazzarri will be pinning his hopes on “El Pocho” to supply the ammunition to striker Edinson Cavani, whose growing reputation in world football will make him a marked man on Wednesday. The impish Silva has really found his feet in the English Premier League and the Spanish international has the ability to transform a game in seconds with his ability to think one step ahead of his opponents.

Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro and his two central defensive partners have the small problem of trying to contain Manchester City’s free-scoring Argentinean superstar Sergio Aguero. The former Atletico Madrid striker scored three at the weekend and looks to be in unstoppable form at the moment. If that isn’t bad enough for the Vesuviani back-line, Roberto Mancini also has Bosnian marksman Edin Dzeko and the controversial Italian Mario Balotelli waiting in the wings.

Mazzarri has been talking in the Italian press about the need for everyone connected with the club to keep their feet on the ground as Champions League fever hits the southern city. The coach also explained that he will certainly start the game with his trusted trident of Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani. His opposite number, Roberto Mancini has been extremely complimentary about the opposition ahead of the game “Napoli scare me, they are a strong team, I have seen them on the television and have had my spies at their matches” explained the former Sampdoria legend.

The build up to the game has not been without its off field controversy with Napoli only being allocated 2700 tickets for the game - a woefully small number for a stadium that holds in excess of 40 thousand people. It seems the authorities have penalised the Neapolitans for recent European excursions to Liverpool, Budapest and Villarreal which saw many supporters travel without tickets gaining entry into the stadiums by whatever means necessary resulting in minor disturbances. But this is Naples and the pride and passion which burns deep inside its fanatical supporters is what makes this Italian club so special and any warnings to fans not to travel without the necessary documentation looks likely to go unheeded once again. Manchester will be expecting a southern Italian invasion this week as Mazzarri and his charges attempt put the club back where the fans believe they belong, trading punches with the elite of European football.

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