Milner: City there to be shot at
James Milner expects it to be even tougher for Manchester City to defend the Barclays Premier League title than it was for them to win it - and feels confident the team are ready to make the step up to another level this term.
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After they secured their first top-flight championship for 44 years in May in the most dramatic fashion, the task of keeping hold of the trophy begins on Sunday for City when they get their 2012-13 league campaign under way by hosting newly-promoted Southampton.
Blues midfielder Milner anticipates the job facing him and his team-mates this season to far exceed the one they met in sealing the club's maiden Premier League crown, but the 26-year-old England international is feeling good about City's prospects of rising to the challenge.
Asked if he thought staying at the top was harder than getting there, Milner said: "I can't speak from experience because I haven't had that pleasure, but I'm sure it is.
"Everyone says that. You're there to be shot at and teams are going to come for you.
"It's up to us to keep on improving and not rest on our laurels. We are working harder in training, everybody wants to get better and the competition for places is there.
"Being champions is a great feeling but it will be twice as hard to retain.
"Teams will now lift their games even more than they did before so it will be a tough experience, but hopefully we'll keep improving as a team and doing well."
Milner admits the memories of last season's triumph and having the tag of champions may help boost City this term, but insists the real key will just be hard graft.
"Winning is a habit - you want to win matches and you want to win trophies," Milner said.
"You gain that belief and I think we gained a lot of belief from winning the FA Cup (in 2011), which gave us the belief to go on and win the Premier League.
"Winning the Premier League is not easy. There are a lot of top teams in there challenging so it's a fantastic achievement.
"But it's an even bigger test to go out there and do it again so it's down to us to keep working hard.
"We won't set any targets, we will just go out there and keep playing the same football and then hopefully we will win some more trophies."
Emotions were running high when City pipped derby rivals Manchester United to the title on the final day of last season as late goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero secured the victory against QPR the Blues required to be crowned champions.
There have been plenty of replays shown since then of the Aguero strike which completed City's 3-2 come-from-behind win, and when he watches them, Milner still feels some of what he did on that afternoon.
He said: "Every time it comes on I still feel the hairs on my neck go up. It was an unbelievable day.
"The emotions went from being at the lowest point they could be at to the highest in six minutes and it was incredible to be honest.
"It would be nice to do it in an easier way but then you probably wouldn't enjoy it as much."
Asked how much damage he felt would have been done to City if they had not emerged with the title that day, Milner said: "I think it would have done a lot, it would have taken a while to get over.
"It was a fitting end to a season, when you think about how that season went.
"It looked like we had it won early on and then Man United were in front and became the favourites. They managed to mess it up and then we were the favourites again.
"You can't put into words the emotional swing, not just for us but the fans in the stadium as well.
"To be part of that occasion was incredible and to win the Premier League, it wasn't just the hard work we'd put in that season and the position we'd got ourselves into, it was something you dream about all your life.
"Since you start playing football you want to win the Premier League so to do it was fantastic."