Even in its first season in the Champions League, Manchester City’s quality and experience should ensure the big—spending English club feels right at home among Europe’s finest this season.
City was placed in arguably the toughest group with four—time champion Bayern Munich, Spanish team Villarreal and Italian side Napoli, but few would be surprised if the club finishes in the top two and advances.
With a perfect four wins in the Premier League and boasting a squad crammed with top internationals following owner Sheikh Mansour’s investment of more than $1 billion on players since his 2008 takeover, City could shake up the established order in its first season in Europe’s elite competition since 1968.
“We’re in the competition sooner than I thought,” said City manager Roberto Mancini, whose team begins Group A with a home match against Napoli. “However, the club has made good investments, bought good players. We deserve to be where we are.
“It’s an exciting competition and I understand why people are getting excited. Our target is to improve all the time and to arrive at the top and win the Champions League in the future.”
Bayern, which visits Villarreal, is the top seeded team in the group, the early leader of the Bundesliga on goal difference after five matches and is the fourth most successful club in European Cup—Champions League history, behind Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool.
However, all the hype in the group this season is sure to be around City, which has adapted quickly to Mancini’s newfound attacking philosophy and scored 15 goals in the Premier League so far.
New signing Sergio Aguero has scored six of them and with Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri also part of an expensively assembled forward line, City has been relentless in attack.
Mancini appreciates the quality of the opposition in City’s group, though.
“It’s strange because our group is very hard and all the teams can finish top or in fourth position,” said Mancini, who last coached in the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2008. “For Napoli it will be the first time in the European Cup after (21) years and for them, like us, the first night will be very exciting.”
After finishing third in Serie A last season, Napoli is preparing for its first appearance in the Champions League since the competition was renamed in 1992. Napoli last competed in the old European Cup after Argentina great Diego Maradona - the father—in—law of Aguero - led the southern club to Italian titles in 1987 and 1990.
Buoyed by a 3—1 win over 10—man Cesena on Saturday in its Serie A opener, Napoli will be the underdog against City despite having prolific Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani in its attack along with Goran Pandev, who was recently signed from Inter Milan.
“I’m curious to see what we can do against such a loaded squad,” Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri said.
Bayern was runner—up to Inter in 2010 and was eliminated by the same team last season in the quarterfinals.
After three straight wins in the Bundesliga, the Bavarian team travels to Villarreal in form and with confidence but without Netherlands winger Arjen Robben, who has back and groin problems.
“They’re a dangerous team ... a typical Spanish team with strong technical ability, lots of pace, and good organization at the back,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said of Villarreal, whose start to the season hasn’t been so impressive.
The side known as the “Yellow Submarine” opened the league with a 5—0 loss to Barcelona and drew 2—2 at home against Sevilla on Saturday.
Villarreal has lost a key member of the team that finished fourth last season, with Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla leaving for big—spending Malaga.
However, its attacking threat remains, with Italy striker Giuseppe Rossi proving himself on the European stage last year with 11 goals in the Europa League, second in the competition behind FC Porto striker Radamel Falcao.