Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes defending the Premier League trophy will be harder than clinching the club’s first title in 44 years.
City ended their long wait to be crowned kings of English football in the dying seconds of last season with two goals in stoppage-time to beat QPR 3-2 and pip bitter rivals Manchester United on goal difference.
But now United have key defender Nemanja Vidic back to fitness after missing half of last season and have also beaten City in the race to sign Robin van Persie from Arsenal.
Van Persie was a long-time target for Mancini only for United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to clinch the £24 million deal this week.
With Chelsea also splashing the cash in a bid to close the gap on City, Mancini, whose side begin their title defence against promoted Southampton at Eastlands tomorrow, is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his team.
“It will be even harder than last year,” said Mancini. “United have played for the title every year for 20 years. Just because we won it last time, we can’t change that.
“When you are champions everyone wants to beat you. For this reason it will be a difficult game. But I enjoy it, because to compete with Manchester United, with Arsenal, with Chelsea, is fantastic. To win the championship last year I think was an incredible achievement for us.”
Mancini has so far signed one player since the end of last season, paying £12 million for Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell.
“It’s a great opportunity, I’m still young and I’ll be with great players I can learn from, so it’s the perfect chance for me,” said Rodwell. “It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s why I came. I believe in my ability.”
City face Southampton without England full-back Micah Richards, who injured an ankle while on Olympic duty. Mancini expects him to be out for at least three weeks, while England goalkeeper Joe Hart is also a likely absentee.
Di Matteo wants Chelsea to close gap
Meanwhile, Roberto Di Matteo admits Chelsea’s main target this season is to close the gap on title rivals City and United as the European champions prepare to kick off their campaign at Wigan tomorrow.
Di Matteo, who was installed as permanent manager this summer, believes it will be a tough challenge to gatecrash the title race, particularly for a team in a state of transition.
“This is an ambitious club and we know we have to win trophies to be successful,” said Di Matteo. “Personally, I still believe that City are the favourite because they haven’t lost any key players. But, certainly, Robin van Persie is a good signing for United.”
“United have played for the title every year for 20 years. Just because we won it last time, we can’t change that. When you are champions everyone wants to beat you. For this reason it will be a difficult game.”
“We’re ambitious and we know we’ve to win trophies to be successful. I still believe City are the favourites
because they haven’t lost any key players. But, certainly, Robin Van Persie is a good signing for United.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2012.