Manchester City are quick to come out of their shell

Mancini takes more positive approach to away games so his side are no longer just hard to beat
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The Independent Online

So who are this new team in sky blue dazzling the public with attacking vim built around mercurial individual talent? And what relation do they bear to the squad who scored by far the fewest goals of the top four last season and, away from home in particular, appeared to reflect the grimmest defensive mentality of their Italian manager?

Those who watch their football at Craven Cottage, where Roberto Mancini takes his Manchester City squad this afternoon, may be as well placed as anyone to solve the apparent conundrum, for it was Fulham who were on the receiving end last November of the sort of pounding that Tottenham and Bolton have already suffered on their own ground in the past month.

In little more than half an hour that day City led 3-0; with an hour played it was four, and Zoltan Gera's goal for the home side was of little consolation. The signs were there of what City could become, and while their own Eastlands Stadium (as it then was) would occasionally see confirmation later in the campaign, the disappointment was that they should so often remain such dreary visitors, above all at venues such as Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the Emirates.

It will be fascinating to see the approach at those key venues later in the season – at Old Trafford, local pride alone has always been sufficient motivation for City to have a go – but the feeling in the dressing room is that they are merely building on what was already there, with the added impetus provided by acquisitions such as Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.

As the England defender Joleon Lescott put it after the entertaining draw with Napoli last Wednesday: "We've brought in some new additions, Sergio and Samir have been outstanding so far, and with the belief in the whole dressing room we're confident in our ability and feel if we play well we're going to be hard to beat.

"It's the same formation, there's just more belief," he added. "It breeds confidence, being together week in and week out, and we believe we can go out and win games. We've still got the resilience from last season, where we were hard to beat, we've added a little more creativity, so if we combine the two I'm sure we'll be a force."

There is an element of irony in warnings being issued in the wake of the Napoli game – not least by Mancini – that too adventurous an approach will cost them at the highest level. Napoli took the lead by capitalising on one mistake by Gareth Barry to break at pace with a spare man against Lescott and Vincent Kompany and finish devastatingly.

Jamie Redknapp suggested on television that Nasri could have brought down one of the attackers from behind; a more legitimate argument was that the otherwise excellent Yaya Touré should have been covering Barry from behind and the two central defenders from the front.

A repeat of such breakdowns will have the unwanted effect of driving Mancini back into the defensive shell from which he would sometimes last season send out no fewer than three defensive midfielders.

Bringing in Aguero behind the hugely improved Edin Dzeko, with a wide man on either side of him, still does not make room for Carlos Tevez, but offers abundant attacking threat in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Fulham can reasonably plan for such a system today even if the personnel change, as Mancini has promised they must with five more games in a fortnight before the next international break.

Kicking off at 3pm today, his team again face the possibility of being upstaged by Manchester United, who start and finish an hour later at home to Chelsea. The bonus is that at least one – if not both – of City's most significant rivals for the Premier League title will drop points.

"Obviously there's an opportunity there, but it means nothing if we don't win at Fulham, so we'll go there with positive thoughts to concentrate on our game, and hopefully the other two cancel each other out," Lescott said. "We are confident in the squad and we know that for strength in depth we can match any squad in the world probably."

The demise of Garry Cook as chief executive has clearly not dampened confidence and self-belief in east Manchester.

Fulham v Manchester City kicks off at 3pm today

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