The first round of the Champions League group stage has come to a devastating and frustrating close for fans of the Partenopei. A 2-1 loss away at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk sees us sitting third in the group with zero points. However, another battle raged on as Feyenoord hosted the mighty Manchester City, the latter taking all three points in a 4-0 victory, putting them top of the group. I think it’s safe to say that City’s abundance of world class players (and wealth) will stand to be Napoli’s fiercest opponent, as they look a much stronger side than the side we faced in 2011.
The Squad & Summer Transfers:
Over the summer Manchester City bolstered their back-line with three new full-backs, Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy, Real Madrid’s Danilo and Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, totaling a whopping £133 million. They also signed a feisty young winger in Monaco’s Bernardo Silva and added a new goalkeeping option in Benfica’s Ederson Moraes. These new additions definitely add a new layer of depth to a squad already boasting the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, all the while headed by the revolutionary tactician Pep Guardiola.
The Citizens ended last season in third place on 78 points, 15 off league leaders Chelsea and also 8 less than we achieved during the same season in the Serie A. Their top goal scorer was the ever prolific Sergio Aguero who ended the season on 20 goals, with no other player breaking the threshold of even 10 goals (Raheem Sterling was second best with seven). They were knocked out by an exciting Monaco side in the Champions League round of sixteen (before going on to snap up two of their starting players), reached the FA Cup semi-finals before being kicked out by Arsenal and reached the fourth round of the League Cup before being booted out by cross-town rivals Manchester United. I think it is safe to say it wasn’t a perfect season for the Citizens, with no prominent silverware in return for the vast fortunes spent on incoming players and staff.
The 2017/18 season has seen a much more polished Manchester City side, bolstered by the aforementioned acquisitions as well as shedding some of the players who could be classed as part of the ‘pre-Guardiola’ era. They currently sit second in the Premier League with bitter rivals Manchester United sitting above them based solely on goal differential, both teams sitting on 10 points with 3 wins and a draw. Statistically they are currently top of the league in terms of accurate passes per match, average possession and possession won in the final third. Those stats identify a playing style very similar to our own with high offensive pressure, quick passing and a dedication to maintaining possession. A playing style that saw them sweep aside a powerful Liverpool side 5-0 last weekend. Hence the comparisons between Guardiola and Sarri.
It’s obvious that Manchester City are toughest opponents Napoli will face this group stage. However, whether they are the strongest team in the group remains to be seen. Guardiola is not afraid to shift his team tactically, employing both the 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 systems to great effect. Their proficiency up front this season is frightening with the young Gabriel Jesus and experiences Sergio Aguero both contributing great numbers already, whilst their defensive leakages which plagued them last season have seemingly been patched up with the addition of a new keeper, the purchase of 3 strong full-backs, and the maturing of the previously ridiculed John Stones. No team is unbeatable. Monaco proved that passion and tactical proficiency can take the clubs without the vast fortunes of the Manchester, Parisian, Bavarian and Spanish giants to extraordinary heights. Napoli have looked shaky at times, however isn’t that always the case so early in the season? We’ve been proficient for quite some time and the frustrating display in Ukraine may very well be the wake up call the squad, and staff, needed to kick off a season of new and exciting heights.