UEFA Champions League Group Stage Preview: Napoli vs FC Bayern

Samrin HasibAnalyst IOctober 17, 2011

Heynckes and his old charge Babbel.
Heynckes and his old charge Babbel.

Manuel Neuer might as well stay home instead of turning up to play for FC Bayern. Against Hertha, he could have been in the stands and Bayern still would have won.

One has to appreciate the fact that Neuer shows up to the least action-packed job in the world of football in a good mood every day. He even makes one or two quality saves to preserve Bayern's clean sheet record—which stands at 12 straight games, and 13 overall so far this season.

Hertha midfielder Andreas Ottl deemed himself satisfied after the match against Bayern. There are no typos in that sentence—he actually felt the result could have been a lot worse than 4-0, and he was right.

Bayern was 3-0 up within 12 minutes thanks to wonderful goals from Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and they spurned chances for fun afterwards. Gomez added one more from the penalty spot, taking his tally to 14 goals in all competitions this season.

Napoli, meanwhile, played Parma at the San Paolo at the weekend. Napoli lost mainly because of their over-commitment to attacking football, especially when they were level at 1-1.

From what I understood from the match, a lot of what happens to Napoli depends on Ezequiel Lavezzi. Lavezzi is like a terrier cutting through the opponent's defence, and is adept at striking the ball.

Edinson Cavani is not just a hitman, he can pass well and shoot well from outside the box too. Bayern will have to be wary of these two.

Another player who I found impressive was Andrea Dossena. Dossena featured in the left-wing position, though his natural position is the left-back slot.

Napoli can actually use this to their advantage to contain Thomas Mueller, and perhaps Rafinha, while maintaining an attacking threat on their left wing.

Marek Hamsik didn't have his best night, but is known to be quite a talented player. Almost everything is impressive about Napoli. However, the back-line is a little suspect, and their pressing wasn't the best against Parma.

Napoli seemed to get caught on the counter-attack a little easier than they should, and Bayern should be able to capitalise on this through the pace of Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller.

Napoli's results in Europe have been impressive and they should not be taken lightly, though. They drew against Manchester City on the opening day at the Etihaad and beat Villarreal 2-0 at San Paolo.

They are two points behind Bayern in Group A. One piece of good news for Bayern concerning Napoli is that Goran Pandev is unavailable due to injury, so he wont be around to remind Bayern about Inter Milan and last season's painful defeat. Marco Donadel is also out with injury.

For Bayern, the entire squad is good to go. Fan favourite Ivica Olic returned to action against Hertha, managing 20 minutes playing time. Only Arjen Robben and Breno are unavailable. When Robben will be available again is anyone's guess.

Both Luis Gustavo and Rafinha were rested at the weekend, so both may feature against Napoli—replacing Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Daniel Van Buyten respectively. Jupp Heynckes refused to reveal whether Rafinha or Jerome Boateng would start. Judging by the opposition, Rafinha should get the nod.

Meanwhile, Diego Armando Contento, who hails from Naples and is named after a certain legendary Argentine, is looking forward to this one. According to Holger Badstuber, he has gone on and on about the match. He might even feature if Bayern prove to be as dominant as they have been in recent weeks.

How the match will pan out is anyone's guess. Napoli rarely ever plays defensively. One can only expect them to attack with a lot of heart. Bayern usually soaks up the pressure in games like these, and can strike early as they have done in most matches.

Napoli has to be careful in the opening stages to ensure that Bayern doesn't get an early goal. The Bayern defence has been impenetrable in the last 12 matches—and after all, when called upon, Neuer can actually make mind-boggling saves.

This game, for me is the best one in terms of entertainment in this round of fixtures in the Champions League. Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia might turn out to produce a cracker too.

So will Bayern win? I think they will—but it will be close. A draw will not be a poor result.

Prediction: Napoli 1-2 Bayern