Manchester City, The Billions and the Holy Grail of the Champions League

After the international break Manchester City fans will surely be counting down the days until they can watch their team compete in the Champions League for the first time. The Eastlands outfit have been drawn in ‘the group of death’, with Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli, who are ready to ignore the multi-millions spent by Roberto Mancini’s outfit and look to eliminate the big spenders from Europe’s top tournament at the first time of asking.

Of the four English sides in the competition, City have the toughest group, with a representative from both Italy and Spain coupled with the mite of German powerhouse Bayern. The Group A campaign starts on September 14th with a home fixture against Napoli, but the pivotal point in deciding City’s fate could well be the back to back fixtures against Villarreal in the middle of the fixtures. Home wins are essential, as the Allianz Arena, El Madrigal and San Paolo will pose difficult destinations for the English side.

Napoli exceeded expectations in 2010-11 by finishing ahead of the likes of Lazio, Roma and Juventus to finish third in Serie A; they were actually in the thick of it and had a chance to win the Scudetto until their form dipped five games from the end of the season. Walter Mazzarri’s team pride themselves on attack, and have a South American duo upfront that are looking to bring the glory days of when Maradona wore the sky blue back to Naples.

Edinson Cavani finished top goalscorer in the Italian top flight last year, and has an eye for goal that could cause Vincent Kompany and the likes problems, whilst Ezequiel Lavezzi has established himself as a mainstay in the Argentina international squad – both were linked with a move to Eastlands during the summer. Despite their potency going forward, Napoli rely heavily on captain Paolo Cannavaro at the back, and have a tendency to lose concentration. City’s attacking options could be too much for the Italian side to contain, but expect a fiery encounter in Italy.

Villarreal finished fourth in La Liga in 2010-11, meaning they had to come back early to go through the qualifying stages rather than booking a holiday on before the season started. The Yellow Submarine are at a similar level to Napoli; they too have strong attacking options but a questionable rearguard. City have two things to worry about with being drawn against Villarreal; Giuseppe Rossi and El Madrigal. The ex-Manchester United frontman has evolved since his brief time in England and is now a sharp, clinical and dangerous striker. Add to this the cauldron of the Spanish team’s home ground, which has broken away teams in the past; City’s stars must maintain their composure on their visit on November 2nd.

Bayern will be the toughest of the three opponents, and will fancy their chances of winning not only Group A but the entire tournament. Jupp Heynckes has had a strong start to his time back in Bavaria, and Die Roten have ominously dispatched of a number of Bundesliga sides already this season, with a 5-0 win over Hamburg setting the gauntlet down for the rest of Europe.

The Germans have an international cast of superstars of their own, and Mario Gomez is starting to prove himself as one of the continent’s top goal-scorers. Supplied by Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller, the Allianz Arena outfit have the potential to score goals against anyone. Their downfall in 2010-11 was their defence, which seems to have been strengthened by the summer purchases of Manuel Neuer and ironically Jerome Boateng, who moved from Eastlands six weeks ago – the German side look back to their best.

City fans will accept nothing short of progression through the group, but the draw they have been handed means it will be no walk in the park for Mancini’s millionaires. The three teams they will face should test the English side and give them a few uncomfortable moments, in what should be a baptism of fire for the tournament debutants.

Gareth McKnight writes for

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