LONDON (AP) — Unbeaten but underwhelming, Manchester City is causing anxiety among club officials and fans following the stuttering start to its Premier League title defense.
After winning only two of its opening five league matches, Robert Mancini's team has slipped four points behind leader Chelsea.
The match at Fulham on Saturday comes after City's defensive deficiencies have already been exposed on the road, having drawn both away matches.
"The beginning of the season is difficult and a lot of clubs are conceding goals," City defender Maicon said. "But I know that Roberto is very focused on it. He wants to improve and we have to improve quickly because we can't afford to have any more distance between us and the teams at the top of the league."
It's not only in the league that City is struggling, having lost in the Champions League at Real Madrid last week followed by an early exit from the League Cup on Tuesday.
"We need to work with our defenders because they don't work well at this moment," Mancini said. "When the situation is like this we have to understand our mistake and do our best for the future."
Maicon is sure that Mancini will be able to halt the slump, after also playing under the Italian at Inter Milan.
"He can get passionate but that is the way he should be," Maicon said. "If he gets angry he reminds everybody of the standards required. There is a minimum requirement that is always there. The players know they have to perform at that level."
Setting the pace at the moment is Chelsea, which has been barely troubled in cruising to top spot, apart from a draw at Queens Park Rangers.
Chelsea faces the first real test of its credentials on Saturday at fifth-place Arsenal, however, after having taken only a point off its London rival last season — even with the now absent Didier Drogba up front.
"I don't know how much Chelsea miss him, but we don't miss him! He did a lot of damage against us in every game," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "He has that quality and even when he was on a bad day for 80 minutes, he didn't give up and kept his focus and his desire to be efficient."
Another Chelsea slip-up against Arsenal could allow Manchester United to claim top spot, although the 19-time champions are short in defense for Saturday's home match against Tottenham.