Gareth Barry believes Manchester City have made a stuttering start to the season because opposition try harder when facing the Barclays Premier League champions.
City remain unbeaten this season, but have drawn three of their nine league fixtures and have failed to pick up on the rhythm which landed them their first title in 44 years in May.
Roberto Mancini’s side have particularly struggled in the Champions League, failing to win any of their opening three matches.
Barry has conceded his team-mates have found it tough going in the opening fixtures, but hopes to prove their champion credentials in the coming weeks.
He told the Manchester Evening News: ‘The start of the season is completely different to what we experienced last year, not getting out of the blocks and not getting going. But I think this season is what being champions is all about.
‘You’re going to find it tougher and the games will be harder. People want to beat you that little bit more and this is what we’re finding out.’
And Barry has leapt to the defence of his manager who has been forced to defend his management systems during recent matches.
Mancini is adamant top players should be able to fit into any system – and insisted only weak teams would collapse after one defeat.
With his side losing 2-1 in the recent clash with Ajax, Mancini hauled off Joleon Lescott to play three defenders, and they immediately conceded again.
In his post-match interview Micah Richards claimed his team-mates did not like the system and indicated it was being used under orders from Mancini but under sufferance from the players.
But then City were struggling against the Swansea until Mancini instructed Carlos Tevez to drop deeper, a move which resulted in the winner.
‘It was a good change to be honest,’ said Barry. ‘Carlos pressed the lads that were holding midfield and put them under a lot of pressure, which allowed the team to press that little bit harder.
‘The period we were on top in the first 20 minutes of the second half was probably down to that so it was a good change. It’s nice to talk about a positive one!’