City face battle to retain title: Mancini
MANCHESTER, England, Aug 18 AFP – 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 Dutch striker 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 on Sunday, is under no illusions about the size of the task facing his team.
“It will be even harder than last year. United have played for the title every year for 20 years. Just because we won the championship last time, we can’t change that,” he said.
“Van Persie is one of the best strikers in the world – he is a really top player, the best striker last year. With Wayne Rooney, they will be the best strikers in the Premier League.
“They signed him because they needed another striker. They are better with Van Persie. We have four strikers, it was impossible for me to have another one.
“When you are champions everyone wants to beat you, starting with Southampton.
“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 pounds ($A18 million) for Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell, who was on the substitutes’ bench for England’s 2-1 friendly win over Italy in midweek.
Rodwell, once a target for United amongst others, struggled to fulfill his potential at Everton, but the 22-year-old is relishing the chance to compete for major honours with City.
After the frustration of missing out on van Persie, Mancini would like to sign another senior player and continues to be linked with Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi.
He said: “It’s important to start with one (signing). Now we have a game and we have 10 days to the end of the transfer market.”
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 (back) is also a likely absentee.
England midfielder Gareth Barry, recovering from an abdominal injury, also misses the opener.
18 Aug 3:59 PM