Manchester City must stop slide with victory over Sunderland, Joe Hart says
Holders go in search of a much-needed victory to get their title defence on track, as Chelsea host Norwich and United face trip to Newcastle
Joe Hart admits Manchester City could be destined for a season of failure unless they come to terms with their new status as a prize scalp for the rest of the teams in the Premier League.
Roberto Mancini's side kicked off the new campaign full of confidence after winning the club's first English title for 44 years in dramatic fashion on the final day of last season. But that optimism is beginning to fade after a disappointing run of just three wins from their first nine games in all competitions.
England international Hart, who underlined his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the world with a superb display in Wednesday's 1-1 Champions League draw against Borussia Dortmund, believes his teammates are finding it hard to deal with the increased expectations that come with being Premier League title holders and the extra desire opponents now have to beat them.
City face another test of their mental strength today as Martin O'Neill's unbeaten Sunderland - the only team to take a home point off the Citizens in the league last season - visit Eastlands looking to spring a shock. It is exactly the sort of fixture that City, who are already four points behind leaders Chelsea, must win if they are to retain the Premier League crown.
"I don't know if it is a learning curve, we are in with the big boys now. There is no place to hide. There is no point learning if you are not going to win," Hart said. "We were pretty open but it allows us to play forward. Hopefully we can shore it up again and be the force that we are."
If City fail to win this weekend they are in danger of falling further behind Chelsea, who are heavily favoured to beat struggling Norwich at Stamford Bridge. Roberto Di Matteo's side may not have reached their full potential yet, but they have still been good enough to win five of their six league games.
While new signings Eden Hazard and Oscar have earned plenty of plaudits after their impressive early performances for the Blues, it is Spanish midfielder Juan Mata who remains at the heart of their best moments.
Mata underlined his class with two goals in Tuesday's Champions League win over Nordsjaelland, but he feels that both he and the team have plenty of room for improvement.
"Maybe this was one of the best weeks for me at Chelsea. I'm feeling very well, but I still want to do better," he said. "Last year, we won the Champions League and FA Cup. Now I think we can do it better as well."
Meanwhile, John Terry, who has yet to declare whether he will appeal against his FA charge of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, is expected to return to the Chelsea defence after being rested in midweek.
Manchester United, sitting four points behind Chelsea in third place, travel to Newcastle tomorrow as Alex Ferguson's side look to bounce back after last weekend's 3-2 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.
United's inconsistent start to the season - they have already lost twice in the league - and the goals of newly signed striker Robin van Persie have made Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa something of a forgotten man since his pre-season move to Old Trafford from Dortmund. But United teammate Tom Cleverley revealed Kagawa has made a big impact on the squad.
"We all know what Robin van Persie is about, but I've really enjoyed playing with Shinji," Cleverley said. "He's really on my wavelength when it comes to … one and two-touch football."