Roberto Mancini has denied suggestions his Manchester City players are buckling under the strain of leading the Premier League.

City have topped the table for most of the season but they could find themselves deposed by Manchester United this weekend.

United are two points behind City but Sir Alex Ferguson's reigning champions will leapfrog their neighbours should they defeat bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday.

That is because City, who have stuttered lately on their travels, do not play until Sunday when they are away at mid-table Aston Villa.

Mancini's expensively-assembled side have won just once in six games on the road. Since a 3-2 victory at Queens Park Rangers on November 5, City have lost at Chelsea, Sunderland and Everton, and drawn away to Liverpool and West Brom.

Another slip at Villa Park could hand United a huge psychological advantage with just 13 games remaining after the weekend.

But City manager Mancini has shrugged off worries over his side's away form and rubbished suggestions the pressure is beginning to get to them.

"We knew it was impossible to score three goals in every away game," said Mancini, who is looking to secure City's first title since 1968.

"Sometimes you can lose these games. But we didn't deserve to lose any of these games.

"At Sunderland we had 70 percent possession and lost to an off-side goal in injury time. At Everton we had 70 percent of the ball and had all the shots. At Chelsea it was the same."

City will be coming up against three old boys in defender Richard Dunne, midfielder Stephen Ireland and keeper Shay Given -- with Mancini responsible for selling the latter two players.

But Mancini added: "This is Manchester City against Aston Villa, not Dunne, Ireland and Given."

City skipper Vincent Kompany (knee) and Samir Nasri (groin) are in contention after treatment, but Mario Balotelli is again missing as he completes a four-match ban.

Midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Kolo Toure are still at the African Nations Cup.

Villa start the weekend 13th in the table after one win in five games but the Birmingham club are eight points above the relegation zone.

They have not won at Villa Park in six matches, a run including four defeats. Villa's last home victory was against Norwich on November 5 and that has prompted a group of fans to plan a protest against manager Alex McLeish, previously in charge of local rivals Birmingham, before the City game.

However, Villa's former City goalkeeper Given has urged supporters planning to take part to think again.

"Protesting does not help the club or the players," said Republic of Ireland international Given.

"People have to realise that Alex McLeish is a great manager and is passionate about doing well for Villa.

"It's always easy to blame the manager but players have to stand up and be counted, look themselves in the mirror and put in good performances."

Despite Robbie Keane's third goal since joining on loan, Villa lost 2-1 at Newcastle last Sunday and McLeish's week went from bad to worse when Los Angeles Galaxy dashed hopes of extending the striker's stay in England.

Keane will return to the Galaxy after Villa's trip to Wigan on February 25 as the American club want the 31-year-old Republic of Ireland striker back to prepare for the Major League Soccer season, which starts in March.

Source: AFP