Europa challenge for English elite
Manchester City may have grander ambitions than the UEFA Europa League, but the big-spending Premier League club can take a big step towards the competition's knockout phase with a win over Lech Poznan on Thursday.
The Polish side are the surprise leaders of Group A after two matches, heading City on goal difference, while Italian aristocrats Juventus are third, two points adrift. City supporters of a certain vintage will be heartened by the opposition being Polish as their last European trophy came following a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final victory over another Polish outfit, Gornik Zabrze, in 1970.
Current manager Roberto Mancini, however, is focused on the future and the need to accrue silverware; not only to reward the massive investment of the club's owners, but also to give himself some breathing space in the job. The Italian takes his side into the match on a great run of form after their 3-2 win last weekend over Blackpool saw City record four successive wins under his stewardship for the first time and move to second in the Premier League, two points off leaders Chelsea.
City's England midfielder James Milner says future opponents should beware as they are not yet playing to their full potential. "The best is to come," said Milner, who signed earlier this season from Aston Villa for a reported £26m (€29.7m).
"Obviously it takes time for a side with so many new faces to come together. We have a lot of very good players here, players who are determined to succeed. Hopefully we can improve as a team, keep moving forward and hopefully you will see the best of us soon."
Mancini has so much strength in depth that he has said he intends to rest his talismanic Argentine striker Carlos Tevez as he does not want to tire him out with so much of the season to go. "I would like to rest Carlos," Mancini told British newspaper the Daily Star. "He has played a lot of games and when he goes away with Argentina it is difficult. He returned last week and he was tired."
Lech, though, will be no pushovers for City, having won their first domestic league title last season. They will be looking to Artjoms Rudnevs to outwit the City defence in the same manner as he did against Juventus in the opening group match, when he scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw in Turin.
Reds seek Europa revival
City's English rivals Liverpool have a richer record in European competition but, plagued by boardroom strife and on-field woes this season, they have looked to the Europa League for solace. New England Sports Ventures have now been confirmed as their new owners, but after a desperately disappointing derby defeat to Everton on Sunday they will be looking to bounce back against Napoli in Naples on Thursday.
Liverpool lead Group G by two points from Napoli and Dutch side Utrecht, but coach Roy Hodgson says he will rest players ahead of Sunday's home game with Blackburn. "I'll leave some players out for sure," he told the club website.
"Some of the more important senior players won't travel because their participation on Sunday is going to be so important to us. However, its another opportunity for other players to blast their way into the reckoning."
Napoli, unlike their opponents, have enjoyed a good start to their league campaign and sit fourth in the Serie A table, four points behind leaders Lazio. "It will be a fantastic game. Liverpool are a great team, but we always do well against the big teams," Napoli's Uruguayan midfielder Walter Gargano told the Corriere della Serra. "I am convinced we will score goals and be really motivated to beat them."
Elsewhere on Thursday, Group J leaders Paris Saint-Germain visit in-form Borussia Dortmund, Portuguese giants Porto travel to Besiktas in Group L and holders Atletico Madrid host Rosenborg in Group B.