MANCHESTER: Manchester United’s £24m purchase of Robin Van Persie Arsenal has firmed up the belief of Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini that his neighbours are favourites to regain the Premier League crown from them writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Mancini, maintaining the self-deprecating attitude he adopted at the start of last season, said: “Van Persie was the best striker last year. With Wayne Rooney United  will have one of the best couple of strikers in the Premier League. I was serious last week when I said Manchester United were the favourites.”

City won the title in thrilling fashion on the final day of last season – scoring twice in stoppage time against QPR to beat United to the trophy on goal difference. Their only major addition, so far, has been England under-21 midfielder Jack Rodwell from Everton for £12m while United have also snapped up Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa for £12m from German champions Borussia Dortmund.

Top signings: Arsenal: Olivier Giroud £13m, Santi Cazorla £12m, Lukas Podolski £11m; Manchester City: Jack Rodwell £14m; Manchester United Robin Van Persie £24m, Shinji Kagawa £14m; Tottenham: Gylfi Sigurdsson £8m, Jan Vertonghen £8m;  Chelsea: Eden Hazard £32m, Oscar £25m, Marko Marin £7m, Thorgan Hazard £1m

Mancini, who steered City to their first league title in 44 years, said  that history and experience offered  Sir Alex Ferguson’s side the edge.

He added: “They have been playing for the title every year for 20 years. We can’t change this situation in one year. Any team that bought Van Persie would be better. I felt he was going to stay at Arsenal or sign for another team, but not us. We already have four strikers. It was impossible for us to sign another one.”

City will open their defence against newly promoted Southampton at the Etihad on Sunday, but they will be missing Micah Richards, who is expected to be sidelined for another month with an ankle injury sustained while on Olympic duty.

Gareth Barry remains troubled by an abdominal problem, but goalkeeper Joe Hart could be fit after missing both the Community Shield and England’s midweek win over Italy with a back problem.

** Manchester City have appointed former Barcelona general manager Ferran Soriano as their new chief executive. Soriano fills the vacancy created by the departure of Garry Cook last season and takes up his position on 1 September.

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