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Champions League clash: breaking down the Napoli myths

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Napoli are a counterattacking team spearheaded by Gonzalo Higuaín, but even the success of Rafa Benítez in Europe won't compensate for a lack of chemistry and the inability to keep their heads should Dortmund score first on Wednesday. Or...read further for the real dirt on the partenopei.

No chemistry here.
No chemistry here.
Giuseppe Bellini

Napoli have made it to the Champions League for the second time in three years. To get to the Champions League from Italy, you must be one of the top three in the league, and thus, most likely anyway, showed at least a few solid displays of football. The partenopei have played three rounds in Serie A this season, scoring nine goals and sharing the top spot with Roma. In other words, it seems as though people writing a Champions League preview -- whether by choice or having it assigned to them by their company -- might have seen Napoli play at least a couple times.

But a quick scan of previews focusing on Group F shatters those innocent illusions. The focus in these previews has been Rafa Benítez and his previous ability to manage a team to European trophies. That's usually combined with a statement about Edinson Cavani leaving in the summer, but assurances that Gonzalo Higuaín can compensate for the loss of the Uruguayan.

Out of twelve previews I read, eight of them did not mention Marek Hamšík (except, perhaps, to note that he, Higuaín and José Callejón have scored the goals this season). It's proof positive that a writer hasn't seen a Napoli match this season if they can discuss the partenopei chances without noting that it's Marek that is the orchestrator of the side and the one that creates the goals.

When reading these previews, I came across statements that were inaccurate, slightly muddled or just plain baffling. Here's a few of the best un-truths that should be addressed before Napoli take to the pitch against Dortmund on Wednesday night:

Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has added wisely to the squad, with star signings Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens giving the Azzurri more options going forward.

Well, yes. Mertens does give Napoli another option going forward...from the bench. But considering it's Callejón that has three goals in three matches, and Callejón that is quickly proving to be a game changer, perhaps it's the Spaniard that should be discussed, rather than throwing in a reference to Mertens just to prove there's more to Napoli than poaching players from Real Madrid.

Napoli are the only team in Serie A with a perfect record so far.

Had this preview been published on Monday, this statement might be forgiven. But with Roma's victory over Parma on Monday night, that makes two teams in Serie A with a perfect record. Sorry for wrecking your perfect parallel to Borussia Dortmund.

But if Dortmund scores one or even two before [Napoli] do, they will be demoralized. This is something they have to prevent from happening.

Oh, dear. Mazzarri-time, anyone? For the past few seasons, the partenopei have been famous for their last minute comebacks. Sure, there are a few new faces in the squad and Walter Mazzarri is no longer at the helm, but an opening goal from Dortmund isn't going to break the Napoli spine. They aren't a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters, looking around wide-eyed as the Champions League anthem plays. This is a team of experienced professionals that know how to get a job done. Look no further than the fightback against Chievo if you need proof.

Marek Hamsik is also expected to step back into the team at the expense of Giandomenico Mesto.

I don't even...what? Last time I checked, Mesto was playing right back while Hamsik plays in the center of a three man band, pulling the strings on the attack. But, hey, Christian Maggio will return in place of Mesto. I can see how that can be confusing, what with Maggio's new hair and all.

Napoli still need to get the hang of things and establish a form of team chemistry and will no doubt start off slowly.

Three wins in three games definitely signals that Napoli are off to a slow start. Hamšík's perfect passes to Callejón and Higuaín demonstrate a lack of chemistry, as does the sexy backheel from Blerim Dzemaili to assist in Callejón 's latest. Save for the first half against Atalanta last time out, when Benítez rested five starters, this team has looked much more in sync than, say, fellow Group F competitors Arsenal, who we all know certainly didn't go through an overhaul this summer.

These players make Napoli a team who will hurt the opposition on counter attacks

Hmm. Well, Higuaín, Hamšík and Lorenzo Insigne are capable of hitting and hurting on the break. But c'mon...counterattacks are so last season, don't you think? The last time Napoli took the stage for the Champions League, they attracted plenty of attention for the way they sat back, waiting for the perfect moment to unleash a lethal counter. Rafa, however, has this side playing with more possession, attacking and pressing from the start rather than waiting for a perfect opportunity -- and (crossing fingers) a strategy that leaves the relatively frail defense less prone to being carved apart.