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The defending Premier League champions have started the new campaign poorly and while it is still early in the season, Mancini cannot afford his side too many slip-ups..

By Brendon Netto

With virtually the last kick of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign, Sergio Aguero scored the goal that won Manchester City their first league title in 44 years. A pulsating encounter with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) on the last day of the season, ended in dramatic fashion as the Blues scored twice in the dying moments to win 3-2 and send their fans into euphoria. However, over the start of the new season, City have seemingly failed to carry forward that drive and desire that was so evident throughout the course of their last campaign and especially at the culmination of it.

Mancini was left frustrated as Paul Lambert's men got the better of his side

From their last six games, Roberto Mancini’s side have managed to secure just one victory while their latest defeat to Aston Villa last night has seen them crash out of the Capital One Cup in their first game of the competition. Out of their three victories this season, two of them were hard fought 3-2 wins against Chelsea in the Community Shield and Southampton in their first league fixture; hardly comparable with their dominating nature from last season. In fact, based on recent results, one could go as far as to suggest that the defending champions are enduring a bit of a crisis at the moment. 

City have always had an impressive defensive record since Mancini's appointment at the helm and they were especially solid at the back last season. However, this time around things couldn't be more different as their defence has been breached on 16 different occasions in eight games in all competitions already. It's an uncharacteristically high tally when you consider the fact that they only conceded 29 goals in the league over the course of last season.

The squad have looked disjointed in recent times and that could be attributed to Mancini chopping and changing his line-up every week. The Italian also seems to be struggling to settle on a fixed system he wants his side to play having tried a variety of formations so far. City are currently in seventh place and four points behind league leaders Chelsea but even though it is still early doors, Mancini won’t want that gap widening too much.

The new signings have failed to settle in

The City boss has blamed the club’s strategy in the transfer market for his team’s slow start. On the final day of the transfer window the club hurriedly completed the signings of Maicon, Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic and Richard Wright after only recruiting Jack Rodwell prior to the deadline day. Mancini believes that the timing of the deals have made it difficult for his new signings to gel with the rest of the squad and has resulted in the team delivering below par performances.

Despite the truth in Mancini's excuses, one has to question his thinking behind playing his new signings in big games if he was under the impression that they weren't given the time to gel with their teammates. Against Real Madrid he played Maicon, Garcia and Nastasic at the Santiago Bernabeu. Surely that was a poor call considering the quality of the opposition.

The fact that City have endured a difficult run of fixtures must be acknowledged. The Citizens have faced the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Arsenal already this season but even so, it’s hard to sympathize with a side that has an embarrassment of riches in every department.

Looking ahead, things don’t get much easier for City as they prepare to play three games in eight days against Fulham, Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland from 29th September to 6th October. Given that they lost their opening game in the Champions League and already have ground to make up domestically, Mancini could be forced to play strong sides in all three of those games or risk further slip ups. To add to that, their elimination from the Capital One Cup so early in the season means they will be obliged to post strong challenges on every other front having already lost out on a chance for silverware.

The loss against Real Madrid puts City under pressuer in the Champions League

The Italian tactician has won three consecutive Serie A titles in his time in charge of Inter Milan so he has a fair understanding of what it takes to defend a league title. He now needs to impart that knowledge onto his players, many of whom have never been defending champions before.

However, this season represents a new challenge for Mancini as well since his hat trick of Serie A titles came during a time when the Italian teams around Inter were deteriorating in terms of their squad strength while he now has to contend with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal; all of whom continually strengthens their sides.

Their opponents will look to take advantage of their dismal run of form and heap more pressure onto the Manchester club. City face an in-form Fulham side who currently sit above them in the league table at Craven Cottage on the weekend before hosting the Bundesliga champions a few days later. Given that City are desperate to balance their books in light of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League must be priority. However, dropping further behind in the Premier League would not be welcomed either.

In trying times like these, champions must show character and resolve in order to avert a crisis situation and dismiss talks of their vulnerability. The blue half of Manchester face a decisive period in their season so early into proceedings. Their ability to react as true champions will be put to the test. Are they up to it?

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