Manchester City might be forgiven for still basking in the glow of their first league title win in 44 years, but when Roberto Mancini and his men host newly promoted Southampton at the Etihad, their only thoughts will be about retaining that crown. Both teams will want a good result from this game, if only to instill early-season confidence. Given the weight of City talent stacked against the Saints, Mancini has every right to be the more confident of the two managers. However, opening day games are never easy - ask Liverpool and Arsenal, both of whom struggled badly despite making solid additions to their squad over the summer.
City were pushed to the limit last season, winning the title with pretty much the last kick of the season; the players will want to wrap things up sooner this year, particularly since over the second half of last season they let slip a sizeable lead over rivals Manchester United. Fortunately for all connected with the Etihad outfit, Mancini's men clawed their way back to win City's first title since 1968, on goal difference.
Improvements will be looked for on all fronts this year - consistency in the league and better performances in the cup competitions, particularly in the Champions League. City seem to have started well, beating Chelsea to the Community Shield by the same 3-2 score they lost last season to Manchester United. The league aside, the focus will now be on the FA Cup and European competition.
City spent big in earlier seasons, luring the likes of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva to the club and such players were the bedrock of last season's success. This summer they've been remarkably quiet and have signed only midfielder Jack Rodwell from Everton, something Mancini is not overly happy with and claims will change before the deadline.
The lack of new signings hasn't stopped the side winning though, which must be a good sign for the Italian. City are still a very strong side and the fact they've had a good pre-season (including a comfortable 2-0 friendly win over Arsenal) and have an influential captain in Belgian Vincent Kompany augurs well for them.
The bottom line is that City want to bring last season's form to this year's campaign and build confidence with good results early on. If they can match their home league record from last year - won 18, drawn one, lost none - they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Southampton, meanwhile, will be delighted to be back in the Premier League after seven years. However, they will need to hit the ground running, particularly since the fixtures list has not been kind - they play City, United and Arsenal in rapid succession. Their first concern will be to avoid a hammering at the Etihad. Swansea City, who were promoted last season, went to City and were beaten 4-0 in their opening game.
The Saints have had a very good pre-season and striker Billy Sharp has five goals to his name so far, including a hat-trick against Swiss club Etoile Carouge. However, the real credit for the Saints' success should go to manager Nigel Adkins, who helped the club break a 12-year jinx - not winning the opening game of a season. Southampton beat Leeds United 3-1 in the first game of the Championship last year.
More crucially, Adkins has led the club to back-to-back promotions since his appointment in 2010, guiding them from League 1 to the Championship and now the Premier League. Needless to say the confidence, buzz and goodwill around the club is quite high and that can provide a performance boost when the opposition least expects it. However, the 47-year-old manager believes his side must now aim as high as possible, in order to do well.
"Not everyone was expecting us to do as well as we did in the Championship, but we were in the top two all season - on merit. Yes, we're going to the next level, but there's a stability here that should give us strength. You can't underestimate team spirit. We have to go into the Premier League with the belief that we can be strong. Aiming for 17th place is wrong; if you just fall short, there is a consequence. Aim higher, and if you fall short of that you've done all right," Adkins was quoted as saying.
Team News and Tactics:
Mancini will be without defender Micah Richards and midfielder Gareth Barry owing to injuries picked up during the London Olympics 2012 and before the 2012 European Championships. Italian forward Mario Balotelli is also unlikely to feature, and goalkeeper Joe Hart is expected to return from a back injury, though Costel Pantilimon will be ready to deputise, as he did in the Community Shield. City new boy Rodwell is also doubtful as he is still recovering from a hamstring problem. There should be no other selection issue for the defending champions, who are likely to put out as strong a side as possible, to win their opening game with ease and send title rivals a warning.
The visitors, on the other hand, will have to do without playmaker Jack Cork, who has been sidelined after injuring an ankle in a friendly against Bristol City. Japanese striker Tadanari Lee is also doubtful after injuring his foot. The Saints' new signings - defender Nathaniel Clyne (from Crystal Palace), central midfielder Steven Davis (from Rangers) and forward Jay Rodriguez (from Burnley) - should all make their competitive debuts for the club.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; De Jong, Y Toure; Silva, Nasri, Tevez; Agüero
Southampton (4-4-2): K Davis; Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; S Davis, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Puncheon; Rodriguez, Lambert.
Where to Watch Live:
You can follow the game live from 3.30pm BST on Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports HD 1 and Sky 3D.
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