Roberto Mancini must shore up defence before Stoke visit

Leaky City must shore up defence if they are to defend title… and Stoke are in town next

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UPDATED:

00:51 GMT, 31 December 2012

The seven-point lead Manchester Uni ted enjoy at the top of the Barclays Premier League table going into 2013 is 'not a problem', according to Roberto Mancini.

Manchester City overturned an eight-point deficit last season and they can do it again. Improving the champions' defence, however, must surely be top of the City boss's list of New Year's resolutions.

The excuses for seeing his side concede three goals in Saturday's 4-3 win at Norwich City came thick and fast: Anthony Pilkington's opening goal for Norwich came from 'a free-kick which was not a free-kick'.

Leaking: Manchester City conceded three goals away at Norwich

Leaking: Manchester City conceded three goals away at Norwich

Get in: Russell Martin heads home Norwich's second

Get in: Russell Martin heads home Norwich's second

Captain fantastic Vincent Kompany (right) has been chosen to partner Matija Nastasic for much of the season

Captain fantastic Vincent Kompany (right) has been chosen to partner Matija Nastasic for much of the season

Russell Martin's other two goals were
from corners when City were down to 10 men after 5ft 9in Samir Nasri's
misguided attempt to headbutt 6ft 2in Sebastien Bassong following the
central defender's yellow-card challenge.

'I am sure he wouldn't have done it
if he wasn't on the football pitch,' noted Pilkington. 'I think he had a
few of his lads behind him.' Mancini was also quick – and correct – to
point out that leaders United have already let in 28 goals this season
and City's defence remains 'one of the best in the Premier League '.

That, though, is not really saying
much after a Saturday in which 35 goals were scored in eight top-flight
games and even stingy Stoke shipped three at home to Southampton.

This is fast becoming a Kevin
Keegan-style competition, which is not built on clean sheets and 1-0
wins but playground scorelines of 'we can get more goals than you'.

This is the real concern for Mancini, whose side won the title last season by conceding just 29 goals in 38 games.

The 'goals against' column is already up to 19 after only 20 games of this campaign, after all.

Happy: Roberto Mancini said he was pleased with the way his side have defended so far this season

Happy: Roberto Mancini said he was pleased with the way his side have defended so far this season

City goalkeeper Joe Hart alluded to
it after last week's 1-0 defeat by Sunderland when he said: 'People play
differently against us now.'

They do – not only because they are
the defending champions but because they look vulnerable at the back.
Norwich sensed it on Saturday and tried to pepper City's penalty box –
where 75 per cent of their goals have been conceded – with high crosses
and set-pieces.

Mancini responded by bringing on
Joleon Lescott in a back three to combat Norwich's extra-man advantage
but if the quality of some of the home side's deliveries had been good
enough to bypass Gareth Barry or Yaya Toure, City could easily have
found themselves nine points behind United.

This is not a question of City missing a player like Nigel de Jong but more a problem in the heart of their defence.

Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic
has been Mancini's favourite defensive pairing this season, starting 10
league games, but the Italian has used six different combinations
already this season.

Kompany's storming run set up City's
second goal on Saturday, but the captain did not command the back four
and seemed to get frustrated at some of referee Mike Jones's decisions.

Lescott, meanwhile, was not
introduced until the 81st minute and looks set to leave in January after
starting just seven league games this season.

Class: Sergio Aguero lifts the ball over Mark Bunn to make it 3-1

Class: Sergio Aguero lifts the ball over Mark Bunn to make it 3-1

Back in the goals: Aguero wheeled away after his expertly taken goal

Back in the goals: Aguero wheeled away after his expertly taken goal

Just about: Edin Dzeko and Aguero ensured City earned all three points

Just about: Edin Dzeko and Aguero ensured City earned all three points

Mancini accused his strikers of being
'soft' after they failed to score at the Stadium of Light but insisted
he was 'happy' with his defence on Saturday, only chiding them for not
paying enough attention in the latter stages.

This, though, has been another problem for City this season, with 62 per cent of goals against them coming after the hour mark.

This suggests a lack of
concentration, particularly after substitutions, but also perhaps that
teams believe City are fallible and keep coming at them, as Norwich did
so impressively on Saturday, believing they are fallible.

Mancini's comments about his
under-performing strikers, however, worked at Carrow Road. The visitors
were sumptuous and lethal going forward, particularly in the first
quarter of an hour, when the movement of Edin Dzeko, David Silva and
Sergio Aguero seemed to bewilder Norwich.

Dzeko, who claimed a hat-trick
despite Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn appearing to bundle the Bosnia
striker's third into his own net, seemed like he had a particular point
to prove.

'I saw something about the forwards
not being in form and scoring but we scored today so that's good for
us,' Dzeko said with a smile.

But now Mancini must hope for a
similar response from his defence. Hart has become prone to punching the
ball back into play when catching or palming it out to the side seems a
better option and City too often looked disorganised at corners and
free-kicks.

Stoke, their next opponents, will certainly have taken note of that.

Spicy: Samir Nasri was red-carded for putting his head against Sebastien Bassong's

Spicy: Samir Nasri was red-carded for putting his head against Sebastien Bassong's

Off you go: Nasri was dismissed just before half-time for his attempted headbutt

Off you go: Nasri was dismissed just before half-time for his attempted headbutt