Manchester City are debutants with a difference
Manchester: Manchester City begin their Champions League campaign as the debutants no one wants to face thanks to a dazzling start to their domestic season and a squad bursting with expensive talent.
Goals have flowed for City this season as easily as hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent and bookmakers have installed Roberto Mancini`s men among the favourites for European glory before their Group A opener at home to Napoli on Wednesday.
The group`s heavyweights, in terms of seedings in the draw, are Bayern Munich and Villarreal but the German club`s winger Franck Ribery summed up the issue by holding his head in his hands when hearing that the world`s richest club was in his group.
"I saw Ribery`s reaction -- and I think he is a clever man," Mancini told local media.
"We are in a difficult group -- but so are Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli. The group we are in is very strong. It is so strong that there is a chance we could finish top and a chance we could finish in fourth position."
Appearing in Europe`s elite club competition for the first time since 1968, City could, in theory, just enjoy the experience -- or, in the case of goalkeeper Joe Hart, the famous Champions League music played at the start of matches.
"I`ll be humming along," Hart said on the club`s website."As a club, players and fans, we`re looking forward to it. It`s really exciting and we can`t wait."
The reality is different as City owner Sheikh Mansour has pumped more than 600 million pounds ($950 million) into building a squad of players experienced in Champions League soccer who have gelled into a relentless attacking force.
Spearheaded by Argentina forward Sergio Aguero, they have already scored 15 goals in four league games to set the early Premier League pace along with more decorated neighbours Manchester United as the only teams still with perfect records intact.
Aguero, who has scored six league goals including a hat-trick in Saturday`s 3-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, has a personal interest in Wednesday`s Italian visitors.
Married to the daughter of Diego Maradona, Aguero will face the club his father-in-law helped to the 1987 and 1990 league titles, and while Maradona will not be at the game due to coaching commitments in Dubai he will provide inspiration.
"I hope I can help Manchester City do great things like Diego did with Napoli," local media quoted Aguero as saying.
Mancini has said the main aim is to progress from the group and with the likes of Aguero and fellow striker Edin Dzeko, who was left on the bench against Wigan despite scoring four goals in the previous game, the Italian has the tools for the job.
Serie A side Napoli are also making their first appearance in the Champions League group stage, with their last European Cup appearance 21 years ago, and are also in high spirits.
Defender Hugo Campagnaro, who survived a car crash in which three people died in his native Argentina in June, scored the decisive goal as Napoli won 3-1 at 10-man Cesena in their opening league match of the season on Saturday.
Influential Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik was on the bench at Cesena but came on to score the third goal and will start for the Naples side in Manchester.
"Hamsik is recovering from two matches with his national team. I preferred it this way so that he could be refreshed for the match in Manchester," coach Walter Mazzarri said.
"Now begins a Champions League adventure. I`m curious to see how the team will do against a big club like Manchester City. We`ve got into the European Cup after 20 years, we have a difficult group but also a fascinating one we want to play in. For us it is a source of pride to be there. Then we`ll see."
Manchester City: 24-Joe Hart; 2-Micah Richards, 4-Vincent Kompany, 6-Joleon Lescott, 22-Gael Clichy; 18-Gareth Barry, 42-Yaya Toure, 19-Samir Nasri; 21-David Silva, 10-Edin Dzeko, 16-Sergio Aguero
Napoli: 1-Morgan De Sanctis; 14-Hugo Campagnaro, 28-Paolo Cannavaro, 6-Salvatore Aronica; 11-Christian Maggio, 88-Gokhan Inler, 20-Blerim Dzemaili, 8-Andrea Dossena; 22-Ezequiel Lavezzi, 17-Marek Hamsik; 7-Edinson Cavani