SAO PAULO (AP) – The old guard probably won't want to admit it, but there is a new boy in the house. Seeded in Pot 3 because they haven't been down this road before, Manchester City got no respect and no luck when the draw was made for the UEFA Champions League groups, but you had better believe that Roberto Mancini's developing powerhouse will be one of the teams to beat this year.
City's emergence as a superpower, fueled by the addition of Samir Nasri from Arsenal and Kun Aguero from Atletico Madrid, merely adds more intrigue to a competition that already is the best club football show in the world. If Barcelona remains the odds-on favorite to claim another European title and Manchester United looms as a major contender, the prospect of the City of Manchester somehow displacing Spain as the center of the Champions League universe is certainly alluring.
Scoping out who will actually get to the knockout stage next spring is guesswork, but we hope that a certain attention to past achievement and current form will be of some use as we take a look at all eight groups and suggest who will emerge as the final 16 in December.
Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City, Napoli
Forget that Bayern is the top seed. Manchester City is the class of this group, leaving the other three to fight for a knockout spot and the Europa League consolation prize.
Unless Mancini somehow turns his collection of jewels into a stew, there simply is no way that the others in this section can live with City's depth. That depth is what produces European winners. Think of it: City can start Aguero and Nasri in the league on the weekend, then use David Silva and Carlos Tevez in Europe 48 hours later - or vice versa. City has so many squad options that a European run is not a challenge, but keeping all of those egos happy is. One caution: an injury to Joe Hart or Yaya Toure and the City balance sheet could change abruptly.
Bayern has been injury-dogged for three years and stars in a long running off-the-pitch soap opera that makes the Munich team almost as much fun to talk about as to watch. They are supposed to host the final in their Allianz Stadium, but it will take something of a miracle to get there. (Having said that, Arjen Robben did produce just that miracle two seasons ago).
Neither Napoli nor Villarreal are of the same pedigree, but both have match-winning strikers who make them dangerous opponents. Edinson Cavani is the Napoli ace, Giuseppe Rossi occupies the same role in Spain. Both men can win matches by themselves and one of them will have to step up as a superstar if either of these teams is to advance.
Our prediction: Manchester City are group winners; Bayern are runners-up. Napoli to Europa League.
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