(File image) Roberto Mancini

Manchester - Roberto Mancini insists he will solve Manchester City's problems quickly as the Premier League champions head into a crucial clash against Sunderland on Saturday.

City's sluggish start to the season has been a sobering experience for Mancini, whose team won their first title in 44 years last season, but could go into the international break seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

Mancini has not fielded the same starting line-up twice all season as the City manager tinkers with a team that has won only three of their nine matches in all competitions and have conceded 16 goals in that run of games.

After City narrowly escaped with a 1-1 draw despite being out-played by Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Wednesday, Mancini said that he knew what was wrong with his expensively-assembled team.

But while it is still early days in the title race, he doesn't have long to put things right.

City are already four points behind pace-setters Chelsea and another poor result against Sunderland would a major blow to their hopes of retaining the title.

While City thrived as challengers last season, Mancini admits they have found it harder to cope with teams raising their game when they come up against the champions.

“In any league it is more difficult in the second year when you are champions,” Mancini said.

“Teams like Fulham, Sunderland and Stoke are better than they were last season and everyone wants to beat us. All we need to do is stay calm and work hard.

“We have three wins and three draws from six games and we should have two or three more points, but it is still a good start and I am sure we will get stronger after the international break.”

Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia sustained a hamstring problem against Dortmund and could miss out against Sunderland, while the game is likely to come too soon for right-backs Micah Richards and Maicon, who have both been struggling with ankle problems.

Sunderland were the only visiting side to deny City victory at home in the league last season, courtesy of a dramatic 3-3 draw in March, meaning the Wearside club took four points from the Premier League champions after beating them 1-0 at the Stadium of Light in January.

Their hopes of emulating those results would be improved if Adam Johnson delivers on his first appearance against City since the England midfielder's 10-million-pound move to the north-east in August.

The Black Cats are unbeaten in seven games and much of their encouraging start is down to Steven Fletcher, the Scotland forward signed from Wolves for 12-million pounds two months ago.

Fletcher has scored all Sunderland's league goals so far - five in four appearances - and the 25-year-old's team-mates admit it is time they started to share the burden.

Stephane Sessegnon, the Benin international, has failed to find the net for 16 games stretching back to March.

The 28-year-old is confident he can still beat last season's modest eight-goal tally to help his strike partner Fletcher, and he said: “My aim this time is to score more goals than last season and I'd love to reach double figures.

“Steven Fletcher has answered all the questions asked of him so far, and he's been able to make the difference for us.

“But we must all do our best to help him. He's done very well, but he can't score all the goals forever. We must do what we can and I want to contribute more.

“Steven rightly gets a lot of credit for his qualities as a finisher. We've missed someone like that who can score goals and hold the ball, and we're all happy he's here.” - Sapa-AFP