• Pressure on Manchester City manager to get through group
• Re-emergence of Carlos Tevez strengthens prospects
Under the European lights on Tuesday evening take two of Manchester City's Champions League crusade begins against José Mourinho's Real Madrid. After last year's failure to last beyond Christmas Roberto Mancini knows he must guide the club to the knock-out phase or the sticky questions start.
In Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour, the billionaire owner, will watch television pictures of the starriest night yet of his club's fast-paced evolution in what is only City's third European Cup campaign against Real, the nine-times continental champions who head the aristocrat class the Blues are so keen to join.
The Sheikh's £1bn-plus investment has always been pointed at this competition and the status success will bring, to the club and the Abu Dhabi "project". The thinking behind the strategy here is that a first triumphant invasion of Europe is the next required staging post in the Emirate's long-term goal of building a global commercial empire.
With work under way on the £100m-plus, 80-acre Etihad Campus that will feature the City Football Academy where the hope is a generation of home-grown prodigies can be hot-housed, the demand on the front-of-house operation is that Mancini can deliver the Champions League trophy in the next two or three seasons.
For the campaign about to be embarked upon the least required is a powerful showing that gives credence to Mancini as an operator on the continental battlefront where his career record is modest: in four seasons at Internazionale the furthest he managed was the quarter-finals.
In this quest Mancini has an array of stellar talent assembled in the manager's three years in Manchester that disallows any excuse of inferiority when City roll into Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, who make up a group that for once is a league of domestic champions.
Mancini, though, spent a fretful summer hoping to get the green light for a £116m splurge on a quartet he identified as being able to provide the surge required to compete in Europe while attempting to retain the championship.
Under orders from the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, Brian Marwood, City's football administration officer, refused to sanction the spend on Eden Hazard, who went to Chelsea for £32m, Javi Martínez, who cost Bayern Munich the same price, the £30m-rated Daniele De Rossi, who stayed at Roma, and Robin van Persie, snapped up by Manchester United for £23m.
In this decision we saw City, the world's richest club, indicate theirs is now apparentlya financial policy hoping to adhere to Uefa's Financial Fair Play. Instead, in a frantic, final 24 hours of the summer window, Mancini spent £38m on a second-choice four who with the earlier payment of £15m for Jack Rodwell took City's total outlay to £53m. In came Benfica's Javi García for £15.8m, Swansea City's Scott Sinclair (£6.2m), Internazionale's Maicon (£4m) and Fiorentina's Matija Nastasic (£12m, including Stefan Savic as a makeweight).
What City's ins and out for summer 2012 do not show is the re-emergence of Carlos Tevez as the potent force that again makes him their best player. The striker, who became an outcast last season, is now the happiest of campers, a slim-line, smiling assassin with goals in each of City's opening three league games.
The anniversary of the Tevez-Mancini fall-out arrives on 27 September. When the Argentinian refused to warm up for a substitute's appearance in a Champions League group game at Bayern Munich an imbroglio began that became a prime factor in the failure to reach the knockout stages. The loss of City's onfield totem,, the operator who leads the charge while scoring crucial goals and who has Champions League-winning experience with United in 2008, left a gaping hole as Carlito's Way led to an early exit for the club.
From a group that featured Bayern, Villarreal and Napoli, City crashed out to the sound of Mancini's mantra: "Usually with 10 points you always go through, 99% of the time," he said, not without reason. Yet the ramifications for the Italian were still being discussed in Abu Dhabi as City's title challenge looked to have faded fatally when United rode to an eight-point lead in early April.
A breathless, closing month that featured the Blues beating United 1-0 in the derby and a madcap final day which ended in Sergio Agüero's dying-seconds winner to claim a first championship in 44 years closed the debate over Mancini's future.
With a fresh, five-year contract now signed, he will feel financially robust. But his career prospects at the club rest on continued advancement and success. Until City have at least one European Champions League trophy in the cabinet, they remain below the domestic elite. Chelsea's first triumph last year attained the holy grail for their own billionaire benefactor, Roman Abramovich. To join Chelsea and United, who have three, an inaugural European title is required. Liverpool's five trophies place them on a higher plane again.
So as Mancini's gang of high-class millionaires take to the Bernabeu's famous turf a fascinating parlour game begins. If City again fail to last beyond Christmas, does the Italian need a second successive Premier League title to avoid a nervy summer?