Manchester City and Napoli. Two teams that have never before reached the UEFA Champions League tournament. Yet City are tipped to win the group, and Napoli, to take last place. Why such a disparity? Manchester City, as everyone knows, are one of the richest clubs in the world, featuring over 600 million worth of players. Their bench is stronger than many other teams in the Premier League. City have won all four of their league matches, sitting second only to crosstown rivals Manchester United, who have a better goal difference.
And then there's Napoli. Due to a Serie A strike, the partenopei have played but one match, against Cesena at the weekend. They impressed in a 3-1 victory, but then again, this is Cesena's third season in the top flight, and they're perpetual relegation candidates. Only a Napoli victory would have been acceptable -- and it wasn't even a clean sheet. Paolo Cannavaro was easily beaten by Roberto Guana for the Seahorses' goal, and the squad had a tendency to fall apart during set pieces.
But to discount Group A's Italian side right from the start would be unfair. They are a legitimate contender for the scudetto. Napoli spent the summer shoring up their squad with quality reinforcements, although Miguel Britos, an upgrade on Salvatore Aronica, was injured in a preseason match against Barcelona and could miss up to two months. Most impressively, the azzurri brought in Swiss duo Blerim Dzemaili and Gokhan Inler, strengthening the central midfield, which was unquestionably the weakest area for Napoli last season. The attacking trident of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani look better than ever, with both Hamsik and Lavezzi out to prove that Cavani's not the only goalscorer at the club. Yet this is not a club with a lot of Champions League experience. Midfielder Mario Santana, who won't be starting, played in the tournament for Fiorentina, and goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis was involved in qualification with Galatasaray. New loanee Goran Pandev was part of Inter Milan's trophy-winning side, but he also managed to already make a case for "miss of the season" last week, so....
Manchester City, meanwhile, are a different side than we saw at this time last season. That squad played cautious football under Roberto Mancini, at times fielding what seemed like six defensive midfielders. Their first four matches saw them collect just four goals, whereas this time around, they've already scored fifteen. Opponents have yet to score on Joe Hart at home. In other words, Napoli are...screwed. Walter Mazzarri has a few, shall we call them, issues with changing tactics, and he's welded to a 3-4-2-1, a formation that can't defend against a single striker. Despite Mancini not letting on which two of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and Edin Dzeko (Mario Balotelli remains suspended from European competition) will play on Wednesday, all three will terrorize the Napoli defense, as will David Silva. Get out the whisky bottle, Napoli fans -- I'm sure Mazzarri will be joining you.
Napoli (3-4-2-1): Morgan De Sanctis; Hugo Campagnaro, Paolo Cannavaro, Salvatore Aronica; Christian Maggio, Gokhan Inler, Blerim Dzemaili, Andrea Dossena; Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Edinson Cavani
With all of her heart, this Napoli fan wants to pick a partenopei upset. But it's never going to happen, not at Eastlands, not against this squad. 4-0 Manchester City.
The match will be played at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, September 14, kicking off at 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST; 11:45 AM PST). SB Nation Soccer will be providing live text coverage of the match as it happens. For more on Manchester City and this match, head over to SB Nation's Manchester City blog, Bitter and Blue. Unfortunately for Napoli fans, A Siren's Song is still in production, so you'll just have to check out SB Nation Soccer for news and updates on all of the UEFA Champions League action.