For first time since 1968, Manchester City begin a top-flight campaign as the champions of England, but if the feel-good factor from last season’s hysteria is still meant to be sweeping around the Etihad, it doesn’t look like anyone has told Roberto Mancini.
The City manager has spent the last few weeks cutting a sullen figure as his attempts to bring in reinforcements to his title-winning side have hit the buffers, and as he turns his ire on sporting director Brian Marwood, the Italian is not a happy man.
Robin van Persie, one of Mancini’s top targets, has rocked up in Manchester but at Old Trafford, and the Dutchman’s move to the Red Devils has capped a frustrating summer for City in the transfer window.
You would have got long odds on newly-promoted Southampton, Sunday’s visitors to the Etihad, outspending City this summer but that is what has happened. Nigel Adkins has spent in excess of £20 million on Burnley’s Jay Rodruguez and Bologna’s Gaston Ramirez among others, Mancini has brought in only Jack Rodwell from Everton, a left-field, surprising transfer that is more about potential than giving City a title-winning edge.
Mancini will be aware that down the years top teams have always bought from a position of strength to keep ahead of the chasing pack, and he will be hoping that some of the players who are surplus to requirements (Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko) are moved to free up funds as the powers that be try to adhere to Financial Fair Play.
But whatever the rest of the transfer window brings for City – and I still think they look the strongest squad overall and will win the league – they couldn’t ask for an easier start to the defence of their crown. The champions are 9/50 to get the three points, with the draw 21/4 and Southampton a huge 15/1, but those odds accurately reflect the chasm between the two sides.
Adkins has performed wonders in winning back-to-back promotions with the Saints, but my fear is that it has all happened a bit too quickly and they look short of Premier League quality, not to mention experience. Very few of the Saints squad have played in the top flight before, and a trip to last year’s winners is a real baptism of fire for Adkins and his men.
Southampton finished second in the Championship last year but that was largely on the strength of their terrific form at St. Mary’s. Away from the south coast, the Saints were less impressive, especially when travelling to the top teams: Southampton won just two of their 11 fixtures away against teams in the top half and have a look of lambs to the slaughter going to the Etihad.
City’s home record in the league last season was immaculate, the only blemish being a 3-3 draw against Sunderland in March. A record of 18 wins from 19 games, 55 goals scored and just 12 conceded was incredible, and there is no reason to think that will be any different this coming season. The Citizens’ record against the bottom-half sides – of which Southampton will definitely be one – was also excellent, winning 16 of their 20 matches.
You can’t see anything other than a City win, and the best route to profit is taking the 29/20 that City win despite giving Southampton a two-goal head start. City won by three goals or more in nine of their home games last year – almost 50% of them – and it is a bet that looks like copping here as well.
Recommended bet: Manchester City to win by three or more goals @ 29/20
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