Man City, Napoli have the style and substance to progress: UCL Group F preview
With the UEFA Champions League starting on Tuesday 12th September, ENRG Sport is previewing the famous European competition by analysing each of the eight groups. Providing you with all the information so you know what to expect as the tournament progresses.
Next up in our series of Champions League previews is Group F, where Manchester City, Napoli, Shakhtar Donetsk and Feyenoord will look to make it through to the next round. Group F is an interesting one, Manchester City and Napoli will be sure to try and play beautiful football at all times, while Feyenoord are a welcome addition after their heroics in the league last season. Here’s a closer look at the teams.
We are still waiting for a memorable Champions League campaign from Manchester City. It’s the one thing that has been missing since their billions brought success to the blue side of Manchester. 2015/16 was as good as it has been as they reached the semifinals. But that just sort of, happened. Their 1-0 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid was unforgettable in every way.
Pep Guardiola was brought in to help City challenge for the Champions League. Last season it looked as if they were on their way, especially after their thrilling 3-1 defeat of Barcelona in the group stage, but their campaign ended in disappointment, throwing away an aggregate lead to lose in Monaco.
But this is a new season and to help their push for the Champions League City have gone out and done what they do best. They’ve bought players, and for a lot of money. They’ve overhauled their full back positions, spending over £100m on Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo, as well as signing attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva and goalkeeper Ederson.
However, their most important addition may actually be a player that City have owned since January. Ineligible to play in the knockout phase last season, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus is set to light up the Champions League this season, perhaps in a similar way to what Kylian Mbappe did at Monaco last year. Everything Jesus seems to touch turns to goals at the moment. The 20 year old has already scored 3 in 4 this season and his partnership with Sergio Aguero could take City a long, long way.
Tournament odds: 9/1
Described by Guardiola in August as ‘one of the best three teams in Europe’, Manchester City may have to be aware of Napoli. The Italians have over the years developed a highly attractive, attacking style of play, and performed well in Serie A last season, scoring 94 goals and finishing third.
In the Champions League last season, Napoli bettered Benfica, Besiktas and Dynamo Kiev to win an open group. In the last 16, they took 1-0 leads against Real Madrid in each leg but ended up losing both matches 3-1.
During the summer Napoli were not that prolific in the transfer market but, more importantly, they didn’t lose anyone either. Defender Kalidou Koulibaly was linked to Chelsea but a move never materialised. Meanwhile Dries Mertens, winger turned striker, who scored a staggering 34 goals in all competitions, remains at the club. He surely must have been looked at by every major European club only to be put off, presumably, be an enormous price tag.
Other than Mertens and Koulibaly, Napoli have a steller squad. With Pepe Reina in goals, Raul Albiol in defence and the attacking talents of Jose Callejon, Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne. Not to mention captain and talisman Marek Hamsik, who enters his 10th season at the club.
So far this season Napoli have enjoyed a 100% record, winning their first three matches in Serie A and comfortably beating an interesting Nice side home and away in the Champions League playoffs. They will be a team to watch this year.
Tournament odds: 25/1
Shakhtar qualified for the Champions League as top seeds by winning their 10th Ukrainian Premier League last season. It was the side’s first championship since 2014, a particularly dry spell considering they had won the previous five.
But then again Shakhtar haven’t had it easy as of late. Forced to play away from Donetsk due to continued Russian/Ukrainian tensions, Shakhtar will this year have to play over 200 km from their home in Kharkiv.
In their squad Shakhtar still have their usual and brilliant mix of Ukrainians and Brazilians, of which in their 24 man squad there are 12 and 8 players respectively. Some Brazilians to watch out for include the midfielder Taison and the diminutive winger Bernard, who featured for Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
However amongst all the Brazilians, it is the Argentinian who could be Shakhtar’s biggest threat. Forward Facundo Ferreyra scored 16 goals in 28 appearances in all competitions last season and has already notched up five goals in his opening seven games this campaign.
Tournament odds: 150/1
Following last season’s remarkable Dutch title win, Feyenoord will be lining up in the Champions League for the first time since 2003. Under former Netherlands international Giovanni van Bronckhorst and lead by veteran striker Dirk Kuyt, Feyenoord won the Eredivise by a single point, clinching the championship with a 3-0 home win on the final day of the season. Kuyt scored all three goals and announced his retirement shortly afterwards.
It is a shame that Kuyt will not be around to reap the rewards of last season, as Feyenoord take their place in Group F looking in good shape. They have won their opening four matches of the Eredivisie season and have scored 12 goals in the process.
Making good starts to the season have been Dutch midfielders Steven Berghuis and Jean-Paul Boëtius, who have already scored four and three league goals respectively. Also, keep an eye out for former Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones, who has been given a new lease of life at Holland and has been a regular starter so far this season.
Tournament odds: 200/1
Jamie’s Group F prediction:
- Manchester City
- Shakhtar Donetsk