Champions League preview: Napoli v Manchester City

City take on Napoli in what feels like a play-off to progress from the Champions League group stages. Roberto Mancini knows Naples well and the team ought to be well prepared for a difficult game.

There has been much talk of the intimidating atmosphere, Napoli’s home record in European competition and, of course, the attacking trio of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Yet City are full of confidence having won their last nine fixtures, while Napoli have won only two of their last eight in Serie A.

There is a sense that their early season form has been on the wane and Mancini’s greater ability to rotate his squad could see City looking the stronger.

Once again it will be interesting to see who plays. Lescott and Kompany are now firmly established as the first choice centre-back pairing. The doggedness of Zabaleta may be used to combat the threat of Lavezzi, while Kolarov has the experience of playing in Serie A.

On the other hand Richards and Clichy look the stronger pairing and their greater mobility is vital in turning defence into attack and back again.

The big game experience of Barry, de Jong and Yaya makes them favourites to start in midfield. David Silva is also sure to return to the starting line-up.

Whether Mancini opts for the industry of Milner or the superior technique of Nasri is open to debate. Likewise the forwards.

Balotelli is the man in form, yet Dzeko should be fresher after being rested at the weekend. Aguero was put up for the pre match press conference, though the Argentine didn’t sparkle at the weekend and can disappear when he doesn’t have the ball into feet.

What Aguero has shown is an ability to come up with goals, most noticeably the last minute winner against Villarreal. Maybe he would be better coming off the bench in this game.

Napoli need the win even more than City, as we would still have our destiny in our own hands with a draw. This suggests they may have to break from their preferred counter attacking style.

Ideally City will look to ride out any early storm and make sure we don’t concede the first goal. This season we have a tendency to score more in the second half and that may be the case here. Mancini respects Napoli and is unlikely to be overly cavalier in the early stages.

If City can come through with a win, then we are sure to be in the Champions League after Christmas and there is no chance of ending up in the Europa League – a motivation in itself.

Blue Days line-up:
Zabaleta – Kompany – Lescott – Clichy
de Jong – Barry
Silva – Y Toure – Nasri

Prediction: 2-0 to City.

Verdict: Manchester City 3 Newcastle United 1
Champions League player ratings: Napoli v Manchester City

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