Mancini tries to mask City's struggles with stunt

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LONDON (AP) -In a series of fiery exchanges with the media, Roberto Mancini had struggled to explain in words that the pressure wasn't getting to him amid Manchester City's patchy form.

So on Friday, the manager resorted to humor.

The Italian turned up at his media briefing ahead of Saturday's match against Aston Villa wearing a mask of assistant manager David Platt.

"Do you prefer David or me?" Mancini joked.

Mancini sent Platt in his place for the last two media gatherings to fend off questions about City's ill-fated Champions League campaign and stuttering Premier League title defense.

Defending the strength of his squad, Mancini said: "We have a good team and we don't need to buy another player in January."

But the questions aren't going away, especially with City needing to beat Real Madrid on Wednesday to keep its faint Champions League hopes alive.

City's prospects domestically aren't so bleak - it is the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and is just two points behind leader Manchester United.

While Mancini dismisses talks of a crisis, striker Sergio Aguero accepted there is room for improvement.

"It's true that we don't have the same flair in the games as we had last season and we've scored less goals for sure," Aguero said. "But the Premier League table says something different. We are very hard to beat, we are second in the table and defending well, so we can't be doing that badly, can we?

"We have been hindered by a string of bad injuries to important players . it's not simple when they all happen simultaneously and I think I'm correct in saying we had very few injuries last season."

United might be front-runner, but it hasn't all been smooth reaching the summit.

It took a comeback at Aston Villa last weekend to make it five wins out of five, the 11th time United had fallen behind in a game in all competitions this season.

"The dressing room is different when you get these late goals, or you come from behind," United manager Alex Ferguson said ahead of Saturday's match at Norwich. "It makes an impact because there is more excitement. We have experienced it many times and it is credit to the character of the club that we can do it."

Not that Ferguson wants to see such sloppiness in his side.

"It is not a gimme that you can come back from two goals down," he said, reflecting on the 3-2 win at Villa. "That is the area where hopefully we will improve."

Javier Hernandez's introduction from the bench changed the course of the Villa match, scoring twice to put the striker in contention for a starting spot at Carrow Road, especially if Wayne Rooney doesn't recover from a right ankle injury.

"Hopefully we will defend better and not lose the advantage of what we experienced last week," Ferguson said.

Chelsea is only three points behind United and could see its defense strengthened at West Bromwich Albion by the return of Ashley Cole after hamstring troubles, although captain John Terry is out for about three weeks.

Arsenal will be hoping a victory against Tottenham on Saturday can kick-start a push for the top four, although winger Theo Walcott, midfielder Mikel Arteta and striker Olivier Giroud are injury doubts for the north London derby.

"If the results are not at the moment completely what we want then I agree, but we are not in a desperate situation," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "It is down to us, the season will be what we make of it now, it is as simple as that."

Arsenal is languishing in eighth place, four points behind fourth-place Everton.

Everton is at winless Reading on Saturday, while Liverpool hosts Wigan, Newcastle takes on Swansea and last-place Queens Park Rangers faces Southampton.

In Sunday's only match, Fulham hosts Sunderland. West Ham plays Stoke on Monday.

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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