Roberto Mancini's first European campaign as Manchester City coach begins in earnest on Thursday, when they visit Red Bull Salzburg in their opening UEFA Europa League group phase fixture.
Having failed to qualify for a place among the UEFA Champions League heavyweights last season, City have had to content themselves with the more understated glamour of the continent's second-tier cup competition. Progress in the Europa League will bring with it increased global exposure, however, and City's mega-rich owners will be expecting to see some return on the £325m (€389m) they have invested in new players since buying the club in September 2008.
City have started the domestic season in irregular fashion, beating Liverpool 3-0 in their first home game but picking up a disappointing five points from their opening four fixtures. David Silva was one of the club's headline summer signings, arriving from Valencia for around €28m during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, and he feels Mancini's embryonic team will soon click into gear.
"We have a great squad and it takes time for all the new players to adapt and gel together," Silva told the club's official website. "We may have lost and drawn the last couple of league games, but we'll soon start climbing the table and I think we'll have a very good season."
A mistake from Joe Hart allowed Blackburn to claim a 1-1 draw against City in their last league outing, but Mancini says the England goalkeeper will keep his place against Salzburg despite competition from Shay Given. "We are involved in four competitions and I'm sure Shay will play in Europe at some point but I will continue to play Joe on Thursday," said the Italian. "It is a difficult decision for me because, as I keep saying, Shay is a strong goalkeeper but at the moment this is my choice."
Salzburg were one of the revelations of last season's competition, winning all six of their group fixtures before falling to Standard Liege in the last 32. The other opening Group A fixture sees Juventus, who drew 3-3 with Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday, host Polish side Lech Poznan.
Reds seek Europa redemption
Liverpool, like Juventus, are another richly decorated team being made to mix it among the lesser lights of the Europa League after an underwhelming domestic campaign last term. The five-time European Cup winners welcome Steaua Bucharest to Anfield in their first Group K encounter, hoping to shrug off a lacklustre start to the season in which they have claimed just one win in their first four games.
"We have got to try and win every game and hopefully we can start on Thursday night," said Serbian winger Milan Jovanovic after the 0-0 draw at Birmingham City on Sunday. "It will be difficult but we will be doing our best as always."
Dutch side FC Utrecht, victors against Celtic in the final Europa League preliminary round, travel to Napoli in the other Group K game. Defending champions Atletico Madrid, who lead La Liga after winning their opening two league matches, begin their bid to qualify from Group B with a trip to Greek side Aris.
Other eye-catching fixtures on Thursday include PSV Eindhoven's game against Sampdoria, who fell in the play-off round of the Champions League, and Paris Saint-Germain's visit to Sevilla, UEFA Cup winners in 2006 and 2007.
Swiss second tier outfit Lausanne-Sport, shock winners against Lokomotiv Moscow in the play-off round, face another side from the Russian capital in 2005 UEFA Cup winners CSKA Moscow.