When Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi bought Manchester City on something of a fancy two years ago, tomorrow evening's match at Eastlands was the sort of occasion he must have pictured: playing legendary names such as Juventus on floodlit European nights. But it is a measure of the ambition and expectation heaped on to City since the takeover and Mansour's £500m investment that Roberto Mancini is playing down the match's significance, because it is in the Europa League, not the Champions League.
City's manager made it clear he will make changes from the side who beat the league leaders Chelsea on Saturday, resting key players from effectively that first-choice team so they can be fresh to play Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday, a game he described without hesitation as "very important".
Invited several times to drum up excitement for a tie City fans are relishing as an echo of the club's most successful era – City beat Juventus 1-0 at home in the old Uefa Cup in 1976, before losing 2-1 on aggregate – Mancini eventually conceded: "It is an important trophy. The Champions League is more important but in February the Europa League becomes very important. If you win, you play another important game [the Uefa Super Cup] in Monaco. We want to go through the group by December, then concentrate on the Premier League."
Mancini said he may replace Nigel de Jong, who flourished in a muscular battle against Michael Essien on Saturday, with Patrick Vieira, who today cited the Europa League as merely an opportunity for squad players such as himself to get a game. "This competition is important because we have a big squad and we all want to play," said Vieira, who has featured in only one of City's six Premier League games. "I am happy with my form but it is difficult when you play one game a month."
Mancini resisted the opportunity to glow about the victory over Chelsea, focusing instead on the difficulty for his players in recovering from tonight's match in time to face Newcastle, whom he described as "a strong team". Yet gradually it was teased out of a football man even as determinedly deadpan as Mancini that he is excited by the prospect of playing Juventus, the team he confessed he supported as a boy, relished facing when he was the coach at Internazionale and may even like to manage some day.
"Why not?" he said, smiling. "Football is like that. I have never been an enemy of Juventus. Maybe I criticised some teams in the past but never Juventus. I was a huge fan for years when I was a child so I have great respect for the club and the players."
City supporters recall fondly the previous meeting, against a Juventus side who included the international stars Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile and Marco Tardelli, as a reminder of glories past. It was the year City won their last trophy, the League Cup, but Mancini believes such history and City's football stature are thin compared to the Italian club's.
"Juventus is a top team, one of the top names in football," he said. "They have an important history which cannot be scrubbed out just because they spent a period in Serie B [due to a match-fixing scandal]. City and Juventus are two new teams trying to build up but City have to build everything. We want a big history for this football club."
Mancini grinned when confirming that Brian Kidd, his assistant, has been reminding everybody that as City's No8, Kidd scored in the home leg against Juventus 34 years ago. "Maybe he can be on the substitutes' bench [tonight]," Mancini joked.
Mancini will field some squad players tonight, keeping his focus on league points and City's stated target of Champions League qualification. But the manager, who admitted to a touch of homesickness – "I'm happy here, but obviously being Italian I miss home," he said – will want his team, building on investment from a billionaire, to match Juventus, Italian football's "grand old lady", recovering from her fall.
Manchester City (4-4-2, probable): Hart; Boyata, Kompany, K Touré, Zabaleta; Milner, Y Touré, Vieira, A Johnson; Tevez, Jô.
Juventus (4-4-2, probable): Manninger; Motta, Bonucci, Chiellini, Grygera; Krasic, Sissoko, Marchisio, Pepe; Iaquinta, Del Piero.
Referee EI González (Sp).