Group of Death or Blessing in Disguise? Napoli’s UCL Draw Reaction.

 

Leading up to today’s Champions League drawing, many fans of Europe’s elite teams were held captivated by a second leg game between PAOK and S.L. Benfica. The outcome of which would determine if the loser of last year’s Champions League final and one of the favorites in this year’s tournament, Liverpool, would qualify in Pot 2 or Pot 3. A seeding that could have significant ramifications on the outcome of the tournament.

Background

Liverpool had a remarkable run in the Champions League last year reaching the finals but ultimately losing to Real Madrid 3-1 at NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev. For winning the competition, Real Madrid were handed an automatic Pot 1 placement even though they finished third in the Spanish league La Liga last year. Liverpool, having earned a fourth position in the Premier League standings, barely qualified for the competition even though they finished runner up to winners Real Madrid. S.L Benfica, having tallied 81 points in Portugal’s Primeira Liga good enough for second place, would have to prove their placement by playing against Greece’s PAOK who also finished second in their Superleague Greece. Benfica proved the better side having defeated PAOK by a 5-2 aggregate winning at home 4-1 after drawing 1-1 in their first leg and sending a high quality and capable Liverpool team into Pot 3.

The Draw

Napoli were one of the 8 teams placed in Pot 2. The worst-case scenario for any team in Pot 2 would be to draw with Liverpool as a Pot 3 team and any team from Pot 1 as only two of those three teams would advance past the group stage. This is exactly the position Napoli find themselves in having been drawn into Group C with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Liverpool and Red Star Belgrade. While many Napoli fans rejoiced and amused at the coming home of Edinson Cavani with PSG, their delight quickly turned to dismay when Liverpool, the team that dismantled Napoli 5-0 just a few weeks ago in a preseason friendly, was also drawn into Group C. Many Napoli fans, encouraged by the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti behind the bench, aspired to reach the quarter finals of this year’s tournament after bowing out early last year. After barely putting forth a decent showing in the Europa League, Napoli fans and players alike are hungry for some hardware. Allan, Napoli’s rising midfield star was recently quoted, “It is my fourth year in Naples now and I want to win something.”

 

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The Breakdown

To win in this group, which will certainly be haled as the group of death in this tournament, will take a great showing by Ancelotti’s side. They rather seem up to the task, having won their first two games in come from behind dramatic fashion against two quality Serie A opponents, but the sides they are facing are no slouches either. PSG features not only a beloved Edinson Cavani, but boasts the star power of Brazilian national Neymar and France’s young World Cup wonder, Kylian Mbappe. Liverpool returns with Europe’s second leading goal scorer and Egyption international Mohamed Salah along with his dangerous Senegalese offensive partner Sadio Mané. Adding even more intrigue to a grouping filled with story lines, two of the best and former Serie A net minders Alisson Becker now with Liverpool and Gianluigi Buffon who recently decided to extend his career with PSG after retiring from Juventus, will once again haunt Napoli’s offensive advances. It will be no holds barred in Group C as these European heavy weights get ready to rumble.

Certainly, to see a Napoli side that is determined to include themselves among Europe’s elite bow out early would be disappointing, but a good showing could set them up well for next season’s competition.

First off, the games have yet to be played, and if Napoli proves their quality and advances from this group then they will have earned the respect and their place among Europe’s best. Ancelotti himself has be quoted, “It’s a very difficult group… but I’m convinced that it will be difficult for them to play against Napoli.” Additionally, while fans and players want to have a good showing in the tournament, realistically they are a long shot to win it. Therefore, if they do not advance out of the Champions League group stage, which nobody would fault them based on the quality of competition, but do go on to win the Europa League, which they certainly possess the quality and depth to achieve, then they would be placed in Pot 1 of next year’s Champions League drawing and earn a more favorable opportunity. Regardless of the outcome, Napoli are in good hands with Ancelotti at the helm and they have the opportunity to bring home some hardware and win something.


By Eric Passariello

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