UEFA drew its groups for the 2017-2018 Champions League season on Thursday evening and Napoli learned what teams they would have to engage in battle.
Napoli fell into Pot 3 after qualifying for the UCL group stage against Nice, a 4-0 aggregate victory. When it was time for the Pot 3 clubs to be drawn, some tough groups were already taking shape.
Benfica and Manchester United sat in group A. Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain had been drawn together in Group B. Chelsea and Atletico Madrid were already paired up in Group C. Defending champions, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund found themselves together in Group H.
The chances of the Partenopei drawing one of these possible “group of deaths” seemed likely. That’s why Napoli fans would likely say they are happy with the club’s end result in the UCL draw. Napoli will participate in Group F, which also features Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City and Feyenoord.
The obvious challenge in the group comes from England’s Sky Blues, Manchester City. The Citizens remain a consistent top club in the Premier League and will threaten to win this group.
City and Napoli actually have Champions League history. The two sides participated in the tournament in Group A back in 2011. The Partenopei traveled to Manchester first on September 14 and managed a 1-1 draw. Then the two clubs faced off in November of the same year and Napoli got an important 2-1 win thanks to two Edinson Cavani goals.
However, City currently has more fire power than ever. Sergio Aguero leads in attack along with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane. Kevin De Bruyne leads the creativity in the midfield, and has support from David Silva, newly acquired Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Yaya Toure. Let’s not forget that Pep Guardiola leads the team as well, so there will be a battle between two attractive styles of football.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Dutch champions Feyenoord seem to represent the weaker links of Group F below City and Napoli, but are not to be underestimated.
The Ukrainian side returns to the Champions League after a one-year absence from last season. The club last qualified to the knockout stages in the 2014-2015 season. However, Bayern handled the club with ease and knocked them out of the tournament.
Donetsk plays with a flare of its own with the likes of Taison, Facundo Ferreyra and Marlos. The side has goals in them and will pose some danger to Napoli’s defense.
Feyenoord is no chump either. The Dutch side beat out Ajax for the Eredivisie title last season by one point. Giovanni van Bronckhorst has lead the team well since taking over in 2015 and the title was the team’s first in 18 years. Feyenoord scored the most goals in the Eredivisie last season and allowed the second least, so Napoli will have to face a gritty club.
When all is said and done, Napoli should advance from Group F and even has a chance to win it. The key for Napoli’s success is having its defense perform to its highest level. Against the offensive firepower that Manchester City has, Napoli can’t afford any slip-ups. Manchester City aside, Donetsk and Feyenoord will punish the Italian side if defensive lapses occur.
Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly will need to lead the backline and keep the opposing attacks in check. Time and time again, the Azzurri look to be a dangerous club, but don’t achieve full success because of errors in the back.
However, this season already feels different for Napoli. Maurizio Sarri has disciplined his men and instilled a new mentality into the players’ minds. The Partenopei will not be afraid of anyone. Although Donetsk and Feyenoord will try to impede the Serie A side, Napoli is and will remain the superior club. And while Manchester City presents incredible ammo, the Italians had the most lethal attack in the league last season. If the squad continues to expand its evident team-chemistry, then there is no reason why Napoli should not advance or have a good chance at winning Group F.