Promised land beckons for City – but the battle will be staying there

Mancini fears limited funds this summer will make fighting on two fronts tricky next term

So here come Tottenham Hotspur, heading up the Ashton New Road to put a spoke in Manchester City wheels, just as they seem to have done at all the most inopportune moments across the course of the last 35 trophy-less years. It was Ricardo Villa's high jinks at Wembley in the FA Cup final 30 years ago, Peter Crouch's header at Eastlands, depriving City of Champions league football 12 months ago, and no one has leered at City's wealth quite like Harry Redknapp, a more unwelcome manager in east Manchester than any you are likely to find. The pressure he exerted yesterday by claiming to know City's big-spending plans belonged to a mischief-making which began when he claimed two years ago that City had blackmailed him into giving up his pursuit of Craig Bellamy.

Tottenham's potential to damage City is more limited this time. The small number of points Roberto Mancini needs to guarantee progression into the Champions League, which has been Abu Dhabi's obsession since they bought City 982 days ago, means that tonight's encounter will be a little less anxious than last spring's. But the conclusion of Tottenham's season does hold a mirror up to the anxiety which Roberto Mancini carries with him into the promised land of Europe's leading club competition.

At a time when the word "budget" has formed a serious part of the City lexicon for the first time since Sheikh Mansour's arrival, Mancini has looked at the way that Spurs' squad has proved so incapable of combining a colourful Champions League campaign with a powerful push for a Premier League top-four place and is understood to be wondering whether that might be City's problem next season. While those continental exploits of Redknapp's will obscure the fact that a £200m squad has failed to maintain a place in the elite, Abu Dhabi might not view such an outcome so benignly – even if there is a delightful progression to the knock-out stages to look back on. Phase one of the City project involved high spend to reach the big league. Phase two involves staying in it. There's no going back.

It is the strength of the substitutes' benches commanded by Sir Alex Ferguson – the manager who looked at Redknapp's squad last autumn and predicted that waging a campaign on two fronts would be too much for the club – which dazzles Mancini. "United played eight or nine different players [against Schalke] from the side that will play against Chelsea," he declared only last week. "If you want to win you want to win like this." But when Mancini looks at his own bench, he wonders how his club will cope.

His chief executive, Garry Cook, was at Udinese at the weekend, watching the Chilean right-sided forward Alexis Sanchez, whose signing City want to tie up early. Bolton's Gary Cahill and Edinson Cavani, the Napoli striker who has scored 26 goals in 35 games on loan from Palermo, may feature on the list, too. But the conclusion of phase one happens to coincide with an end to the days of wine and roses. Uefa's drive towards Financial Fair Play is upon the club, and the European governing body's head of club licensing, Andrea Traverso, wants to begin shadowing the club and others from this autumn to help the drive towards reducing losses of £133m to no more than £13m a year from 2013. Mancini is back in the real world, needing his club to convert loan deals for Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy and to sell Jo, Shaun Wright-Phillips and others, to deliver him some income.

Expect this to make for a more strained environment than last summer, when City were barely out of their league campaign when the pursuit of James Milner began, leading to huge pre-season expectation, including a beaming Mancini declaring that there might be a tattoo on his left leg after City won this season's title, to go with the pipe-smoking sailor on his right which reveals his immutable passion for Sampdoria. It will be for Cook to press home the significance of the word "budget" – testing a relationship which is not always the most comfortable, between two quite different characters.

The pressure points may come if Mancini finds that shipping out players is difficult. City were delighted at the loan deal which took Adebayor to Real Madrid because it included a £14.5m option to buy, but the prospects of the striker remaining in Madrid are next to zero after his dismal displays in the clasicos (four bookings, no goals). City need to lose his £165,000 a week salary. Their refusal to do loan business in January with clubs who would not agree to an option to buy in the summer revealed the importance of selling this summer and is why Wright-Phillips is not currently working at Fulham or Bolton Wanderers.

The restraint, taken with the figures being quoted for Sanchez (£30m) and Cavani (£20m) reveal why City will not countenance releasing Carlos Tevez, whom Mancini expects to be involved in some way tonight as a precursor to an FA Cup final appearance against Stoke City, for less than £50m. Yesterday, Nigel de Jong declared tonight's game to be the most significant since his appearance for the Netherlands in the World Cup final. "You just have to take the experiences with you and make sure you go for it," he insisted. "Everything is in our hands." But the same can't be said for Mancini this summer.

It was Redknapp who suggested, after the goalless draw with City in the Premier League's first fixture of the season, that City had too many players. "I'd hate to have another striker – I wouldn't care who it was. What would you do with five?" he reflected. But as Mancini peers towards the elite, he is finding it hard to accept that less is more.

Who's on Manchester City's shopping list? three players who could be heading to Eastlands

Alexis Sanchez, Udinese
* Age 22
* Position Striker
* Country Chile
* Caps 36
* Goals 12
* Recent injury trouble has been the only blemish on an impressive season in Northern Italy. 'The Wonder Boy' made his international debut at just 17 and impressed at last summer's World Cup.

Edinson Cavani, Napoli
* Age 24
* Position Striker
* Country Uruguay
* Caps 25
* Goals 9
* The versatile forward has been linked with a number of Europe's leading sides and impressed with a recent hat-trick against Lazio. "El Matador" also scored against Germany at last year's World Cup.

Gary Cahill, Bolton Wanderers
* Age 25
* Position Defender
* Country England
* Caps 3
* Goals 0
* The former Aston Villa trainee, who joined Bolton for £5m, has missed only two league games this season and made his England debut last September. He is a commanding centre-back and has interested Arsenal and Spurs.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?