Premier League  champions Manchester City  will line up against Sunderland  at the Etihad Stadium Saturday knowing that a convincing performance is required after their indifferent start to the season.
Despite remaining unbeaten in the league, Roberto Mancini’s side have struggled to maintain consistency in the early weeks of the campaign.
City were off the pace in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund, needing a late penalty from Italian striker Mario Balotelli to rescue a 1-1 draw.
The German champions put in a dominant display in Manchester, forcing City keeper Joe Hart to make save after save as his team were overrun.
Mancini described Hart’s performance as “incredible,” just weeks after condemning the England international for criticizing his teammates following City’s 3-2 loss to Real Madrid.
“Joe Hart is incredible because he saved everything and we should say thank you to him,” the City manager said after the Dortmund game. “He did a fantastic performance. I don’t know if it’s the best performance in football history but he did very well.”
Hart too expressed his delight at having prevented Dortmund from scoring more than once.
“Off the top of my head, I can’t remember making as many saves before,” he said. “I thought Dortmund were different class. It took a good defensive effort by us to keep it to just one. I hope this result is important and that it is not a waste of effort.”
The Citizens required a late goal from Edin Dzeko to overcome Fulham 2-1 last week, but are yet to record consecutive wins.
Victory at Craven Cottage was their first since Sept. 1, when they beat Queens Park Rangers 3-1, although Mancini’s side are undefeated at home for the last 32 league games.
Defenders Micah Richards and Maicon are both expected to be available, with both having returned from ankle injuries.
Sunderland go into the match having recorded their first win of the season last week, with new-signing Steven Fletcher’s goal enough to defeat Wigan.
Fletcher has scored all five of Sunderland’s goals since moving to the Stadium of Light in the summer, and the Black Cats will be hoping the Scottish international continues his rich vein of form.
Sunderland have failed to win any of their past 10 games on the road, but are unbeaten in their opening five matches for the first time since the 1954-55 season.
First-placed Chelsea welcome Norwich City to west London Saturday with the two sides having enjoyed opposite starts to the season.
European champions Chelsea have begun the season strongly, with last week’s 2-1 win away at rivals Arsenal underlining Blues’ title credentials.
The influx of summer signings seem to have gelled quickly at Stamford Bridge, with the club so far managing to blend attacking flair with resilience at the back.
Brazilian forward Oscar and Belgian winger Eden Hazard have shone since moving to the Premier League.
Roberto di Matteo’s side overcame Nordsjaelland of Denmark in the Champions League Tuesday, with Spanish midfielder Juan Mata scoring twice and further goals coming from David Luiz and Ramires.
Fresh from winning Euro 2012 with Spain, Mata is convinced that Chelsea can build on last season’s successes.
“Last year we won the Champions League and the FA Cup playing in a certain way, he said following the victory midweek. “But now it is different and I think we can do it better, by playing even better.
“We have signed players like Oscar and Eden Hazard and sometimes the three of us all play together – and it’s a lot of fun to play with this shape.
“When you win by using quality players who like to play with the ball, you really enjoy it,” he added.
“I have played on the left, the right and in the center and I don’t mind which of the roles I play because we can all switch over. Maybe in Denmark it wasn’t the best game, but we still won 4-0 and that is the sign of a mature team.”
Norwich, meanwhile, are one of three teams yet to register a win in the Premier League, with the East Anglian club clearly struggling following the summer departure of former manager Paul Lambert.
Chris Hughton, Lambert’s replacement, has seen his side score only four times this season, with the club languishing in 18th place after overachieving last year.
Norwich will be desperate to put to rest last week’s humiliating 5-2 loss at home to Liverpool, during which Reds striker Luis Suarez scored his second consecutive hat trick at Carrow Road
The Canaries had began the campaign looking much more solid defensively, yet have started to ship goals more recently.
Hughton’s men look equally at a loss up front, with the side having few options beyond striker Grant Holt.
Following their narrow loss to Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal travel to West Ham Saturday for their second London derby in as many weeks.
Arsene Wenger’s side bounced back to beat Greek side Olympiacos 3-1 midweek, despite underwhelming for much of the tie.
Impressive early performances from new signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have boosted Arsenal hopes of being able to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2005.
Gervinho has also caught the eye, with the Ivorian having scored five times already this season after so often frustrating in his debut campaign with the Gunners.
Wenger’s assistant Steve Bould has likened Gervinho’s slow start for Arsenal to club legend Thierry Henry.
“He’s scoring goals, his confidence is sky-high and his link play is improving,” Bould said. “He’s set up Santi [Cazorla] a few times over the last few games and he’s a danger with his pace and movement. If he gets anywhere near Thierry Henry we’ll take that all day long.”
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce enjoys a strong rivalry with Wenger, with his sides often managing to frustrate Arsenal’s style of play.
Since guiding the east London club back to the English top flight, Allardyce has brought in players with proven technique as well as valuable Premier League experience in the likes of Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun.
Allardyce also succeeding in luring Liverpool forward Andy Carroll to Upton Park on loan, with the England international impressing on his debut in the 3-0 opening day win over Fulham.
Carroll picked up a hamstring injury in that match, although made a return to first team action in Monday’s 2-1 win against QPR.
If he starts, the former Newcastle forward will likely be West Ham’s major goal threat. The rest of Saturday’s action sees Everton travel to the DW Stadium to face Wigan, with Toffees manager David Moyes hoping his side continue their spectacular start to the season. Everton lie just behind Chelsea in the league table, after some excellent performances.