Expensive works in progress
For many a year, it would have been a preposterous suggestion. Yet when Roberto Mancini said that Manchester City and Juventus were at a similar stage in their development, there was a logic to his theory, voiced 30 hours before kick-off.
City's two league titles are dwarfed by the 27 won in Turin; one has qualified for Europe by virtue of their league position once in three decades whereas the other was in a 348th game in continental competition.
But there was a parity on the pitch and a shared sense that this is a work in progress. Fifth and seventh in their respective leagues last year, both covet the glamour of the Champions League. The cast list brought some pizzazz to the Europa League, but also reminders of why each is yet to realise their ambitions.
Clean sheets are a rarity for Juventus. Manchester City struggle to win successive games, especially if they are meaningful matches, but the format of the competition stripped some of the significance from the proceedings. The biggest spenders in England and Italy respectively this summer should progress at the expense of the comparative paupers of Lech Poznan and Salzburg. Anything else would be underachievement on an enormous scale.
As it turned out, it was a diplomatic outcome for Mancini, a boyhood Juve fan who had hinted he would like to manage in Turin one day, but underwhelming for City. Perhaps that is an indication of how expectations have mushroomed, but after Adam Johnson cancelled out Vincenzo Iaquinta's early goal, a willingness to settle for a point was inauspicious.
While Carlos Tevez provided a typical display of high-speed footwork, City were at their most urgent when trailing. It is a scenario for which they can appear ill-prepared. They are configured to protect a lead rather than gain one, let alone chase a game. Paradoxically, though, it was when they were at their most potent.
They needed a response after Iaquinta's forceful shot seemed to take them by surprise. It brushed Kolo Toure's head and sped past Joe Hart to nestle in the far corner of his goal.
"We thought we could control the game but, after Juve scored, the game changed," Mancini said. "When you play every three days, you must start slowly." That approach changed when his side trailed. "Then we took over the game," he added.
Invention is not their most obvious quality, but each of the three central midfielders could have scored thereafter. The supersized pair came close from corners, with Patrick Vieira having a header cleared off the line and Yaya Toure being penalised when he attempted to bundle the ball over the line. Gareth Barry offered a more imaginative attempt, glancing a header backwards and onto the far post. Alex Manninger denied Johnson a goal from the rebound.
When the equaliser came, it was a goal to suggest that Toure is much the most creative passer among the men Mancini uses as bodyguards for his defence. He guided a pass through for Johnson to spring the offside trap with a diagonal run and prod a shot under Manninger. It was his first strike of the season for City, but a tally of two for England is a sign of a player who has assumed a greater importance for country than club.
What followed, however, was less stirring. The match didn't peter out - Alessandro Del Piero almost won it twice with free kicks, one narrowly wide and one striking the bar - but City's attacking efforts did. A point seemed sufficient to satisfy them. "In the second half, we weren't as good as we could be in front of goal," Mancini said. It was hard to disagree.
Tevez and Johnson offered some threat on either flank but, with Emmanuel Adebayor ineffective on just his second start of the season, Manninger was underworked after the interval. The inactivity was extended to the technical area. Mancini's reluctance to disrupt the midfield minders means progressive changes tend to be limited and, when making substitutions, Manchester's other manager is somewhat bolder, as he showed in Valencia 24 hours earlier. Given Juventus' glorious history, this represents a respectable draw, but such caution can be costly nonetheless.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Alessandro Del Piero - His mastery of free kicks remains and glimpses of his enduring class were welcome. Mancini, a similar maestro, admired him. "Del Piero is a fantastic talent, even at 35," he said.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Perhaps he could have got closer to Iaquinta for the goal, but otherwise it was an assured first start for Jerome Boateng. It was an indication that, when the German and Aleksandar Kolarov are fully fit, City may end up with more threat on the flanks with an attacking full-back on either wing. JUVENTUS VERDICT: An excellent first ten minutes was capped by the goal. After an extended spell on the back foot, they emerged as the more threatening in the last half-hour. There were instances when Milos Krasic demonstrated why Mancini was interested in signing him.