Skip to content

UEFA Champions League Preview: Post-hipsterism in Naples, Arsenal’s next challenge highlight Wednesday action

Sep 18, 2013, 3:35 AM EDT

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-DORTMUND-HAMBURG Getty Images

UEFA Champions League’s group stage continues on Wednesday, Groups E through H completing the competition’s first match day. With special focus on the day’s marque match in Naples, here’s a preview of the week’s final eight games:

WHAT THE HIPSTERS LEFT BEHIND
Napoli (Italy) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Naples (Stadio San Paolo), Italy

Imagine Brooklyn before it became its proto-hipster utopia/refugee camp for disaffected suburban youth. In other words, pretend it’s Portland, just like everybody in Brooklyn wishes it was. Don’t do this as a social experiment or an exercise in pop culture irony. Soccer is our business here, so in the spirit of the UEFA Champions League, do it as a way to understand the dynamic between Napoli and Borussia Dortmund. Borussia Dortmund is Brooklyn – newly, almost paradoxically popular – while Napoli’s the cool protos are trying to emulate.

At least, Napoli used to be that cool. When it was Walter Mazzarri playing wing backs with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavazzi, and Marek Hamsik tearing teams apart on the counter, Napoli was the thing – a combination of retro (three center backs) and rebellion (counter attacking’s inherently subversive). People’d forgotten how to defend quality wingbacks. They weren’t used to the zealotry Napoli brought to their transitions. Soccer hipsters denying possession for possession’s sake loved the partenopei.

By the time soccer hipsterism had a label (by definition making it less hip) people had moved on to Borussia Dortmund. They were from the next big league, the German Bundesliga, which has this cool ownership model so … word. They drew the biggest crowds in Europe, providing authenticity through community. They cultivated most of their own talent, had a black-rimmed glasses-wearing coach spouting ethereal philosophies. And oh yeah: They just happened to be really young, really exciting, and really good at soccer.

Funny then, now that the  teams are meeting, the matchup isn’t so much a battle of cultures as merely a meeting between two of Europe’s best. Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, finalists in last year’s Champions League, spent heavily in the summer transfer market (Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), putting a minor dent in the “from our own organic garden” philosophies that’d been trust upon them. Napoli have also spent heavily, bringing in Gonzalo Higuaín, Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol, and Pepe Reina to complement a new head coach, Rafa Benítez ditching Mazzarri’s scheme for the 4-2-3-1. Together, despite Dortmund and Napoli losing their best players this summer (Mario Götze to Bayern, Edinson Cavani to PSG), the teams are a combined 8-0-0 in league play, sitting on top of their circuits.

Trite analogies aside, Borussia Dortmund may be the best team in Europe. Opening Champions League at a team of Napoli’s caliber, we couldn’t hope for a better group stage match. Whether that’s hip or not, I don’t know., but it should be an amazing soccer game. Wrap it in bacon, if you need to.

Major miss: Benítez’s big guns will all be ready come kickoff on Wednesday, which means Hamsik and Callejon, despite starting this weekend’s game on the bench, will be in Napoli’s starting lineup. Klopp, however, will be without two of his best XI, with midfielder Ilkay Gündogen and right back Lukasz Piszczek injured.

[MORE: Champions League Roundup, Tuesday: Upsets make way for goals.]

[MORE: Bayern dominant as they begin title defense.]

source: Reuters

Mesut Özil (right) made his Arsenal debut Saturday at Sunderland. On Wednesday, the level of competition increases dramatically as the Gunners visit Olympique Marseille. (Photo: Reuters Pictures.)

NEW GUNS, NEW TARGETS
Olympique Marseille (France) vs. Arsenal (England)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Marseille (Stade Velodrome), France

Mesüt Ozil was ill, Olivier Giroud picked up a knee injury, while Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, and Per Mertesacker weren’t available. Regardless, Arsenal posted a 3-1 victory on Özil’s debut, boosting Gooner hopes their new star can hit the ground running.

There is one caveat, however. Their opponent, Sunderland, has been terrible. Last in the Premier League, conceding two goals per game and taking only one point from 12, the Black Cats are off to an unexpectedly poor start. Given Crystal Palace and Fulham have also taken full points from Sunderland, Saturday’s win may not say much about Arsenal.

Marseille will be a major step up, and although Élie Baup is trying to portray his side as a young, improving group, they’ represent a new challenge for the Gunners. Runners up in France last season and playing at the newly roofed Velodrome, l’OM have enough firepower and support to break through any team. If Mertesacker isn’t fully healthy or the returning Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t left his rust on the training ground, André Pierre Gignac, Mathieu Valbuena, Andre Ayew and the recently purchased Florian Thauvin can snatch three points.

If, however, Özil is closer to full strength, Arsenal may have enough. If Giroud’s knee has recovered, Arsenal’s threats will surely outweigh Marseille’s. And if Aaron Ramsey continues playing like one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, Arsenal can take a valuable road win from Stade Velodrome.

[MORE: Where they stand: Implications of Tuesday's results.]

[MORE: European titans find form in Champions League.]

source: Reuters

Barcelona’s Gerardo Martino says anything short than a Champions League title will be considered a failure in his first year on the job. (Photo: Reuters Pictures.)

A DEBUT AND A RETURN
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Ajax (Netherlands)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Barcelona (Camp Nou), Spain

Chelsea (England) vs. Basel (Switzerland)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, London (Stamford Bridge), England

“When I took the job, I knew that if we didn’t win a title this season it would be a failure,” Gerardo Martino says of his new post, head coach of FC Barcelona. It’s a ridiculously high and probably unfair standard, though in fairness to Martino (and Barcelona), that may not actually be the case. If Barcelona went deep in Champions League while retaining Spain’s title, few would judge Martino harshly.

Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge, another coach will be making a debut of sorts, but for José Mourinho, Wednesday’s match against Basel is more of a return that debut. But for a man who’s won Champions League twice, returning with Chelsea carries a special significance. In three seasons at Stamford Bridge from 2004 to 2007, Mourinho never took the Blues beyond the semifinals:

“If you win [the UEFA Champions League] once you dream to win it twice. It’s the same with me: I won it twice – I dream to win it for a third time. But I have to focus not in the past but in the future. I want to win for the third time – I want Chelsea to win for the second time.

[MORE: Rooney's double gives Moyes first Champions League win.]

[MORE: Ronaldo hat trick finish Real route in Istanbul.]

Others

  • Atlético Madrid (Spain) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Vicente Calderon, Madrid - Atlético will be without their leading scorer, the suspended Diego Costa, but will be emboldened by a perfect start to their La Liga campaign. Their counterattack will stress a Zenit team that doesn’t always play with a typically midfield destroyer. Luciano Spalletti may start Ukrainian veteran Anatoily Tymoshchuk to try to disrupt Atlético’s attack.
  • Milan (Italy) vs. Celtic (Scotland), San Siro, Milan – Milan’s slow start to last year’s competition nearly cost them a spot in the knockout round. This year, injury issues that limit Max Allegri to 13 healthy players present a new challenge, with a Celtic side that qualified for last year’s Round of 16 hoping to become the first Scottish team to beat Milan at the San Siro.
  • Schalke 04 (Germany) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen – After four loses to start their season (following an early win in the German Cup), Schalke have rebounded from potential disaster to win three in a row, a streak that includes sealing Champions League (at PAOK), handing Bayer Leverkusen their first loss, and earning a valuable three points at Mainz. Like Schalke, Steaua recovered from disappointment in their opening playoff leg to qualify for group stage. They’re also unbeaten in their last 13 competitive matches.
  • Austria Wien (Austria) vs. Porto (Portugal), Ernst-Happel-Stadium, Vienna – Austria Wien will be outgunned by the two-time champions on their Champions League debut, a talent gap coach Nenad Bjelica has downplayed leading up to the match. Paulo Fonseca’s team, however, comes into the match unblemished, the Dragons’ new coach hoping to maintain that perfection through his own Champions League bow.

Latest Posts
  1. Claudio Bravo very impressed by rival Barcelona ‘keeper Ter Stegen

    Aug 1, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT

    Bravo Getty Images

    The 22-year-old is giving the 31-year-old all he can handle, and Barcelona looks set to forget Victor Valdes quickly.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Sporting KC 1-1 Philadelphia Union

    Aug 1, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT

    Zusi Getty Images

    Goalkeeping starred in the first half before one a-piece settled the score.

  3. Reports: Geoff Cameron, seeking CB time, draws heavy Premier League interest

    Aug 1, 2014, 10:09 PM EDT

    Cameron AP

    Geoff Cameron may no longer fit at Stoke City, and could get a CB role elsewhere.

  4. Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann flies with the Blue Angels

    Aug 1, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT

    Seattle Sounders FC Seattle Sounders FC

    Another Sounders keeper went up in the air, although he couldn’t remain awake for the whole flight.

  5. Watch Live: Sporting KC vs. Philadelphia Union (Lineups and Discuss)

    Aug 1, 2014, 7:56 PM EDT

    KCPhilly Getty Images

    Two Eastern Conference teams on unbeaten streaks meet at Sporting Park in Kansas City.

  6. Wenger says Arsenal defender Vermaelen could be on the move this summer

    Aug 1, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT

    Vermaelen Getty Images

    The Arsenal captain saw his games drop significantly last season, and would be a fantastic grab for Manchester United.

  7. Norwich striker Van Wolfswinkel close to St. Etienne loan, manager confirms

    Aug 1, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT

    VanWolfswinkel Getty Images

    After a very disappointing debut season with Norwich City, the Dutch striker is off to France.

  8. Olave suspended two matches, Cahill and Morales fined for incident Wednesday

    Aug 1, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT

    Morales AP

    A head-scratching moment by the New York defender cost him two games, while the ensuing melee dug into the wallets of others.

  9. Learn the chants for every Premier League team!

    Aug 1, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT

    Countdown15

    With helpful videos, NBC is getting you ready for the upcoming Premier League season just days away!

  10. Crimean conflict envelops soccer as Russia and Ukraine each lay claim to clubs

    Aug 1, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT

    Ukraine AP

    Despite reports to the contrary a month ago, it appears the newly-added Crimean clubs will indeed play in the Russian leagues next season.

  11. Reports: Frank Lampard likely to take a short-term loan at Manchester City

    Aug 1, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT

    Lampard AP

    After 13 years at Chelsea, there’s a good chance Frank Lampard could play at Stamford Bridge again…in a lighter shade of blue.

  12. Updated team-by-team list of Premier League transfers this summer

    Aug 1, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.48.16 PM

    Arsenal, Newcastle and West Ham are among the teams who’ve loaded up on talent.

  13. VIDEO: Comedian Mike Myers talks Liverpool love, North American soccer

    Aug 1, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT

    article-2711446-2024907900000578-802_634x402

    Myers and actor Daniel Craig were among the luminaries on hand to watch Liverpool take on Manchester City at Yankee Stadium.

  14. Friday transfer rumor roundup: Latest on Hummels, Lampard’s City loan?

    Aug 1, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    Frank Lampard AP

    Silly season has reached an absurd level, with even sports books creating rumors out of club links.

  15. US U23 list for Bahamas camp unveiled as Olympic prep continues

    Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Lee Yong, Luis Gil AP

    Birmigham City defender Will Packwood and Southampton goalkeeper Cody Cropper are on the list of U-23 stars preparing for the Bahamas.

  16. Guus Hiddink to Netherlands headlines trio of new international hires

    Aug 1, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

    dick-advocaat AP

    Serbia and the Ivory Coast also tab new bosses as the race for continental and world glory continues.

  17. Red card salute, swear jar donations help fund for slain Michigan ref

    Aug 1, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT

    Soccerly Soccerly

    Fans of Detroit City FC helped raise money for slain Michigan referee John Bieniewicz via a “swear jar”, then saluting him with silent red card salute.

  18. Europa League penalty miss from Tom Huddlestone is hard to watch

    Aug 1, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT

    York City v Hull City- Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    A great save followed up by an awful rebound, as Hull draws Trencin 0-0 in its Europa League debut.

  19. Jenkinson, Hangeland, Ferreyra all find new Premier League homes

    Aug 1, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

    Brede Hangeland AP

    West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle have all added players for 2014/15, according to reports.

  20. New York City FC could be a proving ground for Man City youth

    Aug 1, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT

    NYCFC Lampard Soccer AP

    Would City’s best prospects playing in MLS be a boon for the league, or lend the league a minor league image it’s trying to escape?