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City wracked by doubts ahead of derby day showdown

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After the fixtures were drawn for this season, it wouldn't have been too far-fetched to say a maximum return from Manchester City's first four games was a realistic target.

But after dropped points at Cardiff and Stoke, City are already off the pace at the top of the table and all of a sudden Sunday's Manchester derby seems an even more daunting prospect than it usually would.

However, given that United have already lost at Liverpool and drawn to Chelsea, the rivals are level on points and this clash arguably represents the season's first genuine six-pointer despite the campaign's nascence.

Though the gulf in quality between the sides has been closed dramatically in the last few years with the money City have spent, the Manchester sides are usually separated one way or another when they meet.

They have drawn only one of their last 20 meetings in all competitions: a 0-0 at the Etihad in November 2011. And whilst City's 6-1 victory at Old Trafford two years ago sticks in the mind, low-scoring affairs have been the name of the game across town.

Last season's 3-2 win for United was the first league meeting between the sides at the Etihad since 2006 that produced more than one goal. They are rarely drab affairs, but goals have been hard to come by on the Blue side of the city.

City will be hoping, though, that a slow start to life under Manuel Pellegrini will be forgotten with a positive result on Sunday, and after the second half trouncing of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday, optimism will certainly be greater than it was after the dour and wholly uninspiring goalless draw at Stoke the weekend previous.

Though there might have been a few of City's first-teamers missing with the trip to Czech Republic in mind, the performance at the Britannia would not have filled fans with a great deal of confidence that the squad - supposed to be one of the stronger, at least in terms of depth - can deal with the constraints of fighting in Europe, which Pellegrini has prioritised, and in three competitions domestically.

City's three competitive wins this season have come against undeniably weaker opposition, and while the victories over Plzen and Newcastle were convincing, the 2-0 win over Hull was rather more hairy. Sone Aluko missed as good a chance as he'll get in the top flight when he dragged a one-on-one wide of Joe Hart's post, while Danny Graham was an extremely tight offside decision away from ending what has now become a 19 hour, 22 minute drought without scoring.

Accordingly, it has been defensively where City have had worries. They have created chances and scored freely, converting a higher proportion of their shots (13.8%) than any other team in the Premier League this season.

But at the back - where Vincent Kompany has just returned from injury - there have been problems and they were exposed brutally by lowly Cardiff. The three strikes in that game might have been the only goals Pellegrini's City have conceded, but the Welsh side had good chances to add to their lead. Meanwhile, only two teams have missed more clear-cut chances in a Premier League game this season than Stoke did against the Citizens.

Pellegrini's Malaga were not the most solid defensively, and the likes of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure will have to provide more protection for the defence when United come to visit on Sunday. With Kompany back they will be severely strengthened, but this Sunday could well be a chance for David Moyes to win over some doubters by exploiting a Manchester City defence that has its weaknesses.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Alistair Tweedale - @alitweedale

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