It is reckoning time for Manchester City. Their financial results for last season are about to send the wage bill soaring comfortably into nine figures and the land occupied only by Chelsea and Manchester United – if "comfortable" is the word for a largesse towards players who seem to be on their way out before their salaries have even materialised on a published balance sheet. The last £82.6m wage bill looked big, then hoisted on to the next one will be the benefits enjoyed here by Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, whose futures seem to belong elsewhere, Joleon Lescott, who might follow them, and the pay-off to Mark Hughes, long gone. Only Carlos Tevez, whose pay packet will do most to send the wage bill nearer to £120m, is paying his way.
In such circumstances, City could have done with a barnstorming night, a palliative for the inquisition on the spending which will follow in days to come, though there was a supreme symbolism to the fact that the individual who stamped the greatest authority on the game was one who has spent 17 years at one club. Alessandro Del Piero's prowess defied his 35 years and only metal defied his free kick in the dying minutes which slammed against the underside of Joe Hart's crossbar and landed on the goal-line, so nearly destroying City's night. "A fantastic player," Mancini had to reflect. "He has quality that is fantastic."
They call Del Piero Il Fenomeno Vero (the real phenomenon) and though the only one in sky blue who could really answer to that name last night was Adam Johnson, Roberto Mancini still struggles to see authenticity in all he does. The anticipation the 23-year-old displayed to glide between two Juventus defenders and find the pass Yaya Touré slid through was as exquisite as the two left-foot touches he took to control and clip an equaliser into the net.
"I think that Adam is a good player, a young player," Mancini said. "I would like him to improve always when he must attack, when he must defend. Today he scored a good goal. He did something good." It seemed a meagre response to a player who saved the day, but whose poor response to being substituted here against Liverpool last month has been noted by the management.
Johnson feels he deserves more football, though. "I haven't played that much football in recent weeks so I was pleased to get a start and hopefully I will be pushing for a start on Sunday [against Newcastle] now," he said last night. He may also reasonably plead that others were more culpable when the visitors went ahead through Vincenzo Iaquinta. Jerome Boateng stood a yard off the striker, allowing him to run past and curl a shot which skimmed off Kolo Touré's head as he ducked. But Capello's evening will not have been enhanced by the sight of Joe Hart fumbling the ball with an outstretched left glove.
The goal came amid an anaemic start from City which Mancini could not entirely explain. Put with Eastlands' general struggle to engender the kind of European night which the lights of Old Trafford always conjure, it made this occasion a far cry from the night of 15 September 1976, when Mancini's assistant Brian Kidd scored the goal in the 1-0 win in the old Uefa Cup against a Juventus of Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile and Marco Tardelli. They lost 2-1 on aggregate but it was still a time to remember: when gold alone was not the route to lifting silver.
Johnson was the pathfinder as City rallied. He was also loitering at the far post when Gareth Barry's header rebounded off the post for both Emmanuel Adebayor and he to take a swing at.
Adebayor also missed two second half chances, the second of which was not clear cut: the ball got stuck under his feet with three defenders in attention. But Mancini, who is deprived of yet another defender on Sunday through Pablo Zabaleta's hamstring pull, removed Adebayor soon afterwards. "We need him to score a goal," he said. Mancini will have been relieved with the draw, despite brief hopes that Gareth Barry's shot early in the second half might bring the breakthrough. Vincent Kompany's undetected first-half infringement on Milos Krasic in the area was good fortune and then, at the end, came Del Piero's two attempts to change the evening's course – one free kick which swerved narrowly wide and that shot against the bar which did Hart for pure power. "Money certainly does improve things and helps things," Juve's coach Luigi Delneri reflected of City. "Money allows you to buy important players but there are also other players who are not b1ought who are fantastic."
Manchester City (4-3-3): Hart; Boateng (Milner, 84), Kompany, K Touré, Zabaleta (Boyata, h-t); Y Touré, Vieira, Barry; Johnson, Adebayor (Silva, 73), Tevez. Substitutes not used Given (gk), Lescott, Jo, De Jong.
Juventus (4-4-2): Iaquinta; Manninger; Grygera, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Ceglie (Motta, 72); Krasic (Melo, 75), Sissoko, Marchisio, Martinez (Pepe, 54); Iaquinta, Del Piero. Substitutes not used Storari, Lanzafame, Legrottaglie, Gianetti.
Man of the match Johnson.
Referee E I Gonzalez (Spain)
Match rating 6/10
Results so far Juventus 3 Lech Poznan 3; Salzburg 0 Man City 2; Lech Poznan 2 Salzburg 0; Man City 1 Juventus 1.
Manchester City's remaining fixtures 21 Oct Lech Poznan (h); 4 Nov Lech Poznan (a); 1 Dec Red Bull Salzburg (h); 16 Dec Juventus (a).