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The Lowdown On Manchester City’s Champions League Opponents

In recent years Manchester City fans have dreaded the Champions League draw but this year brought about a renewed optimism that perhaps for once, they may not cop for the ‘Group of Death.’

And they were right – this was reserved for Spurs  (although personally I think Group B is the hardest with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht & Celtic).

With City being in Pot B the draw started well with them being drawn in Group F with Shakhtar Donetsk but then came the one everybody didn’t want as Napoli joined them out of Pot C. And finally there were a few shrugs of the shoulders as Feyenoord completed the group.

All in all it doesn’t seem too bad, unless of course you’re planning to go to any of City’s away games.

However, the away trips to all three will be tough so it will be imperative that City’s home form is excellent if they are to progress.

Here is a preview of each side and what fans can expect on their travels.

Shakhtar Donetsk

The Ukrainian champions are not the side they were a few years ago but City would underestimate them at their peril, as I’m sure current City stalwart and former Shakhtar player Fernandinho will no doubt impress upon his teammates.

Gone are the stellar names like  Eduardo, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Douglas Costa & Willian but they still have enough quality in their ranks to cause City problems.

The club who have long been a gateway to Europe for Brazilian stars still have a half a dozen or so in their squad (Bernard & Fred stand out in particular) and they will be looking to put themselves in the shop window.

It has been a turbulent time for Shakhtar of late with the civil war forcing them to move out of their impressive Donbass Arena in 2014 and last season they lost their manager of 12 years, the legendary Mircea Lucescu, to Zenit Saint Petersburg.

 

Manager:                        

At only 44, Portugese former centre back Paulo Fonseca is being closely watched by Europe’s elite and he knows this will be his chance to show he has the qualities to test himself at the highest level.

Having managed Porto and Braga in his homeland he is no sranger to top competition and he will relish the chance to go head to head with Pep Guardiola.

Key player

He may be 35, but Darjio Srna is still a class act and the driving force for his beloved team. The captain has played over 330 times for Shahktar and shows no signs of slowing down just yet.

His tough tackles and marauding runs are his trademark and City can expect a busy night down their left flank.

 

Stadium

Currently sharing the Metalist Oblast Sports Complex with rivals Kharkiv some 150 miles north of Donetsk, the 40,000 seater stadium mercifully has a grass pitch (unlike many clubs in that part of the world). Whilst it may be a bit tricky to get to and very near a war zone at least the city fans should find some cheap ale.

SSC Napoli

The hottest ticket in town right now, the men from Southern Italy are being hotly tipped to end the domestic dominance of Juventus this season under the guidance of the chain smoking, tracksuited genius that is Maurizio Sarri.

One thing that is for sure is that the whole of Europe is looking forward to the match-up between City and the Partenopei as stellar attacking football is all but guaranteed.

While City will rightly fear a trip to Naples to one of Europe’s most hostile atmospheres there are other factors that may come into play before a ball is kicked.

Napoli’s only two domestic titles came in the era of the legendary Diego Maradona and it will be interesting to see where Sarri’s priorities lie in terms of potential domestic success or a run in Europe.

While the starting XI for Napoli is as good as any around the squad perhaps lacks the depth that certainly City’s and other European giants have at their disposal.

But regardless City will have to be a their very best to get anything from a side that arguably keep the ball and attack better than Guardiola’s men. The front three of Callejon, Mertens & Insigne is truly terrifying on their day.

The Manager

Maurizio Sarri is a born and bred Neoploitan and he waited a very long time to get his chance at his beloved club. After taking Empoli to Serie A and upsetting a few along the way with his brash attacking play he was given the chance and he has not looked back.

He will relish the chance to face Guardiola and there will be a lot of mutual respect between the two.

Key player

Despite the front three being the focus of this Napoli side it is their midfield talisman Marek Hamsik that is the key to the system. Likely to eclipse Diego Maradona as Napoli’s all-time leading scorer, the Slovakian is now in his tenth year at the club and is already assured of legendary status.

His slick passing and effortless skill have made him a target for Europe’s top clubs over the years but in an era where player loyalty is almost extinct Hamisk is a class act.

Stadium

The Stadio San Paolo is a fearsome place for opposition players and fans to visit and the noise is probably the loudest in Europe.

Fans can expect a hostile welcome and the players can as well. The noise when Napoli score is incredible and not many teams come away with much.

Feyenoord

Back at Europe’s top table after winning the Eredivisie for the first time in nearly 20 years, the men from Rotterdam will not be looking to just make the numbers up.

However, they have already lost a few key players from their title winning squad with club icon Dirk Kuyt retiring coupled with the sale of key men Terence Kongolo and Rick Karsdrop to Moanco & Roma respectively.

But they will look to make a good impression, particularly on their home patch and use their fanatical fans to their advantage.

Despite this City will no doubt see the two games against the De club aan de Maas as the key to progressing.

The manager

Giovanni van Bronckhorst is no stranger to fans of English football from his time with Arsenal and the classy full back/midfielder is making a name for himself as a top manager.

He knows exactly what European football is all about and he’ll be out to surprise a few in a tough group.

Key player

Striker Nicolai Jörgensen has stuck with club despite widespread interest from other clubs in Europe and he will be the key man if Feyenoord are to have any success in the Champions League.

The 6”3 target man has power and pace so will need to be closely watched by City’s backline.

The stadium

The De Kuip is well known across Europe and Feyenoord have a fanatical fanbase that has often been the centre of trouble on match days.

City fans who saw how many travelled to Manchester to play United in last season’s Europa League will be all too aware of how well the club is supported.

 

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