MANCHESTER: Manchester City began last season putting pressure on their top-of-the-tables rivals such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. They started this season – scrambling a 3-2 home win over promoted Southampton – under pressure themselves courtesy of their status as champions.
Manager Roberto Mancini has always said, in the run-up, that believes defending the title will be even harder than winning it for the first time in 44 years. Now he is even more convinced of that since United splashed £24m on Robin Van Persie, last season’s top scorer, from Arsenal.
City won a first trophy of term by defeating Chelsea 3:2 in the Community Shield but Mancini said: “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.
“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 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 $18m for Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell, who was on the substitutes’ bench for England’s 2-1 friendly win over Italy in midweek. He started in defensive midfield against Southampton.
City had been interested in Van Persie themselves. The potential cost of losing out to United was exacerbated when Sergio Aguero was carried away on a stretcher after an apparent right knee ligament injury. Some 98 days earlier Aguero had been the hero of the moment after scoring the title-winning goal against QPR. The season could not have begun more painfully for him, personally.
City’s bad luck continued minutes later when, with Edin Dzeko on as substitute, they missed a penalty. Carlos Tevez was tripped by Jos Hooiveld but David Silva’s soft kick was saved by keeper Kelvin Davis. Tevez mad amends, for his Spanish team-mate, when he scored the opening goal himself six minutes before half-time on an exquisite pass from Samir Nasri.
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins had win promotion with 4-4-2. Out of respect for City he had started with 4-5-1. But a goal down, and time running on, he brought on last season’s 27-goal top scorer, Ricky Lambert. Within five minutes Lambert had shot Saints’ first Premier League goal in more than seven years.
Fellow substitute Steven Davis scored a second and suddenly City were staring at the danger of a first home defeat since they lost to Everton in Decenmber 2010.
Desperate situations require desperate measures. With 19 mbutes to go Mancini threw on Mari Balotelli and his presence and the increased attacking pressure turned the game around for a second time. Dzeko equalized when Saints failed to clear a corner, Balotelli missed an open goal then Nasri made no mistake.
So much for City. They had come through 3-2. Now the pressure switches to United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men kick off their own season at Everton tomorrow/Monday. An awful lot of eyes will be on Robin Van Persie.
** Chelsea saw Eden Hazard make a perfect start after his £32m move from Lille. He had a hand in Chelsea’s two goals in the first six minutes. The Belgian set up Fernando Torres for the first goal and was fouled for the penalty converted by Frank Lampard. Hazard was substituted in the 64th minute by another new signing, Brazilian Oscar.