An intriguing matchup highlights Matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League. Italian arrivistes Napoli clash with Borussia Dortmund at the Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli have started strongly in Serie A, topping the table with the maximum 9 points in 3 games. Manager Rafa Benitez has instilled confidence into the squad, along with experience in Europe. Benitez was the manager when Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005.
Borussia Dortmund came within an eyelash of winning the Champions League last season, and are hoping to take the final step this season. Die Schwarzgelben are also off to a strong start in the Bundesliga, topping the table with a maximum 15 points in 5 games.
Napoli prefers to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, as midfielders are clearly defined as attacking or holding midfielders. The biggest change though is at the striker position as Gonzalo Higuain comes over on a transfer from Real Madrid. The Argentine International replaces Edison Cavani who left for Paris Saint Germain. Higuain has registered 2 goals so far for La Partenopei, but he does have the potential to tally a multitude of goals, when given the opportunity.
The creative force of the midfield is Marek Hamsik. The Czech Republic International leads the club with 4 goals in Serie A, but is also a dynamic playmaker. Flanking Hamsik will be another former Real Madrid player, Jose Callejon, and Macedonian International Goran Pandev. Callejon does have finish in his game, as his 3 goals in Serie A illustrates. Pandev is more of a passer and creator of scoring chances.
The defensive midfield spots are filled by two Swiss Internationals, Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami. Both are physical, hard players that have a touch of a mean streak. Neither are afraid to tackle with aggression, to win the ball.
The back four is anchored by right back Christian Maggio. The Italian International is a resilient defender who will go up the right flank on the attack. Columbian International Juan Zuniga takes up the left back spot. The versatile defender isn’t afraid to attack, and has creative skills. Centre backs Miguel Britos and Paolo Cannovaro have the unenviable task of trying to shadow Dortmund super striker Robert Lewandowski. Cannovaro is a crafty veteran, who isn’t shy of physical play. Britos, the Uruguayan International, is noted for clearing the ball from the penalty area with his head. If either falters, Spaniard Raul Albiol can be inserted to aid in the defence.
Pepe Reina comes over on loan from Liverpool, in hopes of reviving his career between the sticks. Reina has had his struggles in England and has yet to record a clean sheet for Napoli this season. The Spaniard is hoping a return to European football will give his career an extra boost.
Borussia Dortmund also favours a 4-2-3-1 formation that relies on flowing attacking and crisp passing. Striker Robert Lewandowski finishes off the crisp passing with venomous force. The Polish International has 5 goals in all competitions and is widely considered one of the best strikers in Europe. Newcomer Pierre-Erick Aubameyang is a rising star in the Bundesliga. The Gabon International recorded a hat-trick in Dortmund’s 6-2 victory over Hamburg over the weekend and could be used as a substitute.
Marco Reus is the straw that stirs the drink of Dortmund. The German International is one of the most skilled players around, and can slice and dice the opposition in multiple ways. A superlative creator with a lethal finishing touch, Reus can do it all.
Ilkay Gundogan was the subject of numerous transfer rumours, as clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United were in hot pursuit. However, a spinal injury curtailed those talks, and has left the German International on the shelf. Dortmund do have options though. Kevin Grosskreutz is a worthy candidate to be in the starting XI. He is perfectly line up on the flank with his pace. Turkish International Nuri Sahin is an adept passer who is known for an accurate long ball. Armenian International Henrikh Mkhitaryan has shown wonderful promise for Dortmund this season, but lacks experience in the Champions League. Polish International Jakub Blaszczykowski has the experience of playing under the bright lights of Europe, but has struggled to find his form early on.
Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl are two high quality holding midfielders. Both are effective passers while being robust defenders. Neither will give no quarter to anybody and they combine to make a steadfast duo.
The back four is anchored by Mats Hummels. The towering central defender is a stronghold on the Dortmund defence, who is highly proficient in defending crosses in the air. Serbian International Neven Subotic partners with Hummels in the central defence. The 6-4 defender is another mountain to climb for opposition strikers, as aerial tactics are usually neutered by the hulking Serb. Left back Marco Schmelzer uses pace and quickness to thwart opposition chances. Dortmund could slide Subotic to the right back slot in order for Greek International Sokratis Papastathopolous to be inserted into the centre back slot. Oliver Kirch could see time at right back as well, although the former Kaiserslautern defender has not seen any action so far this season.
Roman Weidenfeller should get the call between the sticks. The longtime Dortmund keeper, has recorded 2 clean sheets so far this season, and is a steady if unspectacular keeper.
This is an interesting matchup. How will Higuain and Callejon deal with the massive size of the Dortmund central defence? Can Hamsik be creative with Bender and Kehl surrounding him for most of the match? Can Benitez find that European magic yet again? I think Benitez will meet his match in Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, who relishes Champions League football, more than any other manager. While both teams have looked sharp domestically, Dortmund has the wherewithal to withstand the pressure of European nights. Expect some goals with Borussia Dortmund coming out with a 3-1 victory.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973