City failed to build on their title success of the 2011/12 season as neighbours and rivals United ran away with the Premier League last season.
Roberto Mancini paid the price for City's failures with Manuel Pellegrini brought in to wrestle the title back off United this term.
Zabaleta, who was named as City's Player of the Year last season, admits winning the crown is their main aim and concedes sometimes their team spirit has not been what is could have been at the Etihad Stadium.
"Let's be honest, we didn't perform," Zabaleta told the Daily Mail. "It wasn't the best, was it? We were too far from it, inconsistent.
"It's true that United were not the greatest United team but they won the league very easily.
"It was bad from us but we want the title back again and that is what we are working for. I think we are learning about our mistakes and everything that has happened before. We try to do better and I think we will. Every player who comes to this club, we know they have the quality to be a City player.
"But it's important also to be strong as a club and to have other qualities and a team spirit. We have not always had that like we should.
"I think football is 70 per cent mentality and 30 per cent quality. But the first bit takes time and it can be a problem."