Roberto Mancini predicts stronger title challenge from Chelsea this season

 

Roberto Mancini is expecting a much stronger Premier League title challenge from Chelsea this season.

Despite a packed summer of sport, the thrilling manner of Manchester City's first championship for 44 years is still fresh in the mind.

In contrast, Chelsea slumped to sixth, their worst finish since 2002.

Amazingly though, such poor form did not stop interim manager Roberto di Matteo lifting the Champions League for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the Stamford Bridge outfit.

With Di Matteo now confirmed on a permanent basis, far greater consistency is expected.

The Italian has already begun reshaping his squad, with one-time City target Eden Hazard coming in following Didier Drogba's departure for China.

And Mancini believes the Londoners are ready to start punching their weight again.

"For sure (they will be more of a threat)," said Mancini.

"They have bought young players and also good players."

Brazil's Olympic star Oscar has also joined Chelsea, in addition to Marko Marin. That pair will be miss tomorrow's Community Shield encounter at Villa Park.

But Mancini feels they will strengthen a team it is still hard to believe overcame a brilliant Barcelona outfit despite the dismissal of John Terry in last season's semi-final, and then beat Bayern Munich in a penalty shoot-out at the Allianz Arena.

"I said a lot of times that the Champions League is a really strange competition," said Mancini.

"It is important you have a good team because you play against the best teams in the world.

"But you should also be lucky when you arrive from the moment you arrive in the quarter-final.

"Maybe Chelsea deserved to win the Champions League five years ago but they won it last year."

Mancini has the same aim this season and with a slightly easier draw - City will be in pot two for the group stage draw, one higher than 12 months ago - it will be a huge shock if they fail to reach the knockout stages for the first time.

Retaining the Premier League is also an achievable aim, for all Mancini's reservations over the strength of his squad.

That City went on to clinch the title after losing last season's Community Shield to Manchester United suggests not too much attention should be paid to the outcome as City look to lift the trophy for the first time since 1972.

And with Mancini confirming neither Mario Balotelli nor David Silva will start at Villa Park as they are barely a week into full training, there will be even more reservations amongst the City faithful, no matter what their manager says.

"If in the end we win the Premier League it is better we lose against Chelsea," said Mancini.

"But it is important that we try to win because we have not won this cup for a long time and we want to start the season with a victory.

"We know it will not be easy. Chelsea are a strong team."

PA

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