MANCHESTER // Nigel de Jong has issued a blunt warning that Manchester City's season cannot be considered a success unless they win either the Premier League or the Europa League.
Roberto Mancini's men host Sporting tonight, looking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit loss in Lisbon and recover from the back-to-back defeats that threatened their two-pronged pursuit of silverware.
Sunday's 1-0 loss to Swansea City enabled Manchester United to leapfrog their rivals and reach the Premier League summit, leaving City in the unfamiliar position of playing catch up.
Yet, while City are on course to comfortably beat last season's points total (71), won three games in their maiden Champions League campaign and have earned plaudits for their brand of football, their Dutch midfielder believes progress is best measured in trophies.
"Our main target is to win a prize," De Jong said. "Our main goal is to win the Premier League. The only way we can succeed this season is to win one of the prizes. After we won the FA Cup last season, everybody is hungry for more. That has to be the ambition of this club."
City have been afflicted by injuries of late, with the first-choice central-defensive partnership of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott missing the setback at Swansea. The Englishman could be on the bench today, but is unlikely to start until Wednesday's match with Chelsea. Gareth Barry, who has been ill and has struggled with a back problem, is another doubt while Pablo Zabaleta remains sidelined.
But De Jong said: "We brought players in for a reason, to make the squad bigger and stronger. We can't have any excuses at the end of the day."
The Holland international, beaten by Spain in the international game's showpiece match two years ago, is equipped to compare two demanding situations.
"The World Cup final is the biggest pressure for any football player around the world but during a season, it is different and I think the pressure of the Premier League is much longer," he said.
For Mancini, the manager, it is conferred in part by a wish to please the fans. The trauma of City's 44-year wait to become champions was personified by a tearful follower at Swansea. It had an impact on the Italian.
"I saw one of our supporters cry," he said. "We want to win for this guy and all the other supporters."
And, for manager and midfielder alike, it is about winning. There is a theory that clubs are best off exiting the Europa League to concentrate on domestic competitions. Mancini is adamant he will not pick and choose his battles.
"We need to always play to win," he said. "In history, all top squads won a championship and went on to the final of the Europa or Champions League. Our mentality should be this."
However, he does hope City's resurgent rivals will be forced to deal with the complications of a crowded fixture list in the remainder of the season.
Mancini is in the unusual position of cheering on United, who face an uphill task to beat Athletic Bilbao after losing 3-2 at Old Trafford last week. "We hope Manchester Unitedwill win," he said, for once.
A former United striker continues to get the attention. Ineligible in Europe, Carlos Tevez could make his first City appearance for six months against Chelsea. "Everybody is keen to see him back," De Jong said.
"Nobody ever doubted his qualities but he had some difficulties with the club. In the group, as a player, he never changed. He can be an asset for the club."