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Napoli face a tough test upon their return to the Champions League

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By Peter McVitie

Wednesday 07 September 2011

After their surprising third-place finish in Serie A last season, Napoli have reached the group stages of the Champions League. Walter Mazzarri’s side have been drawn with Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Villarreal – making Group A the hardest in the competition. The Partenopei have improved the squad as they look to mount a serious challenge on the Scudetto as well as competing with Europe’s elite in the continent’s most prestige club competition for the first time since 1990/91.

Napoli currently have one of the strongest side’s in Serie A and they are looking to challenge for the Scudetto this season – a gruelling and arduous task even without the distraction of European football. But it may be the domestic troubles which hinder the side’s start in Europe this season as, due to player strikes, the Italian league campaign is set to kick-off two weeks later than expected which means that by the time the Azzurri travel to the City of Manchester Stadium in their opening game of the Champions League next week they will have played just one league game – three less than their opponents.

Napoli risk losing ground on the rest of the pack if they are not well prepared or fully fit. City and Bayern, the two strongest clubs in the group, have both hit the ground running this season. Roberto Mancini’s side have a 100% record in the Premier League, including a 5-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Bayern sit top of the Bundesliga having won three of their opening four league matches, scoring nine goals. Villarreal should prove to be the easier opponents of the group for Mazzarri’s side, the Yellow Submarine eliminated Napoli from the Europa League last season but Juan Carlos Garrido has lost several key players this summer and has been unable to replace them. His side has not got off to the best of starts in La Liga, but the Spanish side cannot be underestimated with Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar on the frontline.

If Napoli are to progress to the knockout phase of the Champions League then they need to be firing on all cylinders from the start of the season and maintain a level of consistency. Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik have to find the blend and understanding they shared throughout the last campaign which was central to the team’s success. Gokhan Inler, Goran Pandev and Miguel Britos are three fantastic additions to the Napoli squad but they haven’t been given much match practice with their new teammates to allow them to prepare for the new campaign. Inler could be key for the Neapolitan side but will have to adapt to his place in the centre of midfield very quickly. Britos must establish a solid partnership with Napoli’s lynchpin Paolo Cannavaro almost immediately. Loan signing Pandev could become an integral part of the club’s European campaign as he has experience in competing in and even winning the Champions League

Walter Mazzarri’s squad is strong enough and has enough depth to maintain a successful Champions League campaign. Napoli will be looking to progress to the second-round of the competition which is a massive task for the Italian side but by no means is it an impossible one, they are used to producing shocks and Mazzarri is one of the most talented and intelligent coaches in Italy at the moment. This Napoli team may not be the strongest team in the competition but there are few with as much determination and ambition as this one does and the side should not be underestimated.

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