Mancini offers case for defence
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believes his side are still paying the price for a fractured pre-season.
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City head into Sunday's encounter with Arsenal still searching for the form that saw them crowned Premier League champions last season.
The reason for their difficulties is not hard to spot.
From having the top flight's best defensive record, City suddenly look vulnerable.
Including the Community Shield, the Blues have conceded 11 goals in six games so far this season, culminating in the three at the Bernabeu on Tuesday that cost them a famous Champions League away win over Real Madrid.
It took City 13 games to reach that number last season. And Mancini is certain he knows why there has been a change.
"For two years we were the best defence in the Premier League," he said.
"This year we have been average.
"Probably the big problem was we didn't get to work properly in pre-season. Since then we lost some players and have had an international break.
"But if we are going to improve, we need to work."
Joleon Lescott paid the price in midweek.
Good enough to start both England's World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, the 30-year-old was left kicking his heels on the bench in Madrid as Mancini preferred teenage Serbian Matija Nastasic.
It seemed like a significant move. Yet Mancini insists it was not.
"No," he said. "We have played six games this season and all the players have played two or three.
"The problem was because we started pre-season in a different moment.
"Joleon came back very late. He is an important player for us but we have 23 good players. Sometimes I can change them."
Mancini accepts Sunday's game will offer a decent guide to his team's present situation.
After their own tricky start, Arsenal have hit form.
Whereas City struggled at Anfield, and required a large slice of good fortune to snatch a draw, the Gunners cruised to an easy away win at Liverpool.
Immediately after the international break a Southampton side City were behind against on the opening weekend of the season had six goals slammed past them by Arsene Wenger's men.
Rather than the departures of one-time City target Robin van Persie and Alex Song signalling the death knell for Wenger and his team, it actually seems to have released them.
Santi Cazorla has already proved to be an outstanding purchase, while Germany frontman Lukas Podolski has confounded gloomy pre-season predictions about his contribution.
Mancini dispatched trusted reserve-team coach Attilio Lombardo to Anfield to run the rule over the Gunners three weeks ago.
And Lombardo's report suggested City need to be very wary.
"Arsenal are very strong on the counter-attack," said Mancini.
"I watched the game against Liverpool on TV and they played really well.
"They have two important players, Cazorla and Podolski, who are very good and Johan Djourou maybe. He didn't score but he is a good player.
"We should pay attention because their counter-attack will be very strong."
Samir Nasri will miss out with a hamstring injury for City, who could recall both Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero.