By Jonathan Birchall
As if to steal not only Manchester United's title but their identity also, Roberto Mancini's Manchester City have made a habit of striking late on their ascent to English football's summit.
From the ecstasy of Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal in May to the uneasy relief of saving four unconvincing points from their opening two Premier League fixtures, the champions' rescue missions have been typically made in Manchester. Though now it is City, not United, who seemingly always score.
But in the spirit of doing things the hard way, Mancini needs another rabbit out of the hat. With four days of the transfer window remaining, long-term target Edinson Cavani looks set to follow the lead of his Serie A colleague Daniele De Rossi by remaining in Italy and signing a new contract at Napoli - €55 million [£43.5m] release clause included.
East Manchester, home to Ancoats Little Italy following an influx of hundreds of, many Neapolitan, immigrants from the country in the 19th century, isn't quite proving the draw the City boss had obviously hoped.
"We all know that in football if you stand still you go backwards," said former City manager Peter Reid, a comment which is often included on the list of great footballing slips of the tongue. But there's method to the supposed madness. And Mancini should take note.
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In isolation, City have secured Jack Rodwell to bolster their midfield and are seeing Carlos Tevez a stone lighter and a yard quicker than at any point last season, while Aguero is a year more attuned to the Premier League climate. But Mancini doesn't need to look far to see how quickly those around him have moved, and they do so much quicker when the chase is on.
The two teams seen by most as the challengers to City's crown have benefitted greatest from their failures in the market so far, with Robin van Persie and Eden Hazard, both targets for the champions earlier this summer, having opted for United and Chelsea, respectively.
Beyond that, Old Trafford has welcomed the already-impressive Shinji Kagawa, Nick Powell, Alexander Buttner and Angelo Henrique since the window opened in June, while Roman Abramovich has bankrolled the biggest Premier League outlay of the window, securing the likes of Oscar, Marko Marin, Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta to the tune of £80 million.
Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal have themselves spent heavily as they look to close the gap between themselves and the Manchester duopoly. Sunderland and West Ham have also outspent the champions.
City's commitment to lowering costs is an admirable one, particularly with the shadow of Financial Fair Play looming large over European football's most imprudent clubs, but with the money secured from the sales of Adam Johnson, Emmanuel Adebayor and Vladimir Weiss, the Etihad Stadium outfit are in profit this summer, excluding the bumper new wage packages for the likes of Mancini and captain Vincent Kompany.
Either way, it has hardly been a summer of extreme largesse from Sheikh Mansour, the Premier League's richest owner.
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The money is of course there and therein Mancini's frustrations lie. A summer spent publicly encouraging Brian Marwood, City's Football Administration Officer, to the market has led to clear tensions at Carrington, with the former Nike marketing manager briefed with easing the club's vast wage bill above all else.
City's performance at Anfield on Sunday offered enough evidence to suggest that this is a squad, albeit the strongest in the country, in need of freshening up, especially with thoughts of fighting on more than one front this season in mind. Mancini can only hope that Cavani's seemingly imminent new deal at Stadio San Paolo acts as the straw to break the proverbial.
At present, only two obvious targets remain with less than 100 hours of the transfer window remaining, with Scott Sinclair's arrival from Swansea the only deal close to completion. City are also looking to secure a £23.6m move for Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetic, as Goal.com exclusively revealed a week ago, though the champions will be looking to move both Roque Santa Cruz and Edin Dzeko on as a result.
Amid the uncertainty, the pressure on City is clear and history proves Reid correct. After all, following Sir Alex Ferguson's first title at Old Trafford, Roy Keane was signed to secure back-to-back Premier League wins, while under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea followed up their first league victory in half a century with a spending spree of over £100m.
The champions have left it late again and those behind them are moving quickly. For City, standing still is not an option.