LONDON, England (AP) — For a team still unbeaten more than two months into the English Premier League, Manchester City aren't giving the impression of being a strong contender to defend the title.
Only four points separate third-place City and leader Chelsea, but only due to the team scraping by.
The Champions League has been less forgiving, with City's prospects looking bleak after two losses and a draw — draining the team of confidence and creating the impression of instability.
Disquiet in the dressing room is emerging, with frustrations over changing formations voiced by Micah Richards. The City defender had claimed the defence struggled due to Mancini's shifting the formation in the 3-1 loss at Ajax on Wednesday — from four to three at the back.
"If you are a top player it is not important what system you use," City manager Roberto Mancini said yesterday, a day before the home match against Swansea. "If you don't understand a system like that, you cannot play for a top team."
Such a putdown could be Mancini reasserting his authority on the team in a bid to prevent City from completely imploding.
"If we allow one defeat to alter that, we would be really weak," Mancini said. "Strong teams can lose a game but it is important you understand the reasons, and what mistakes were made. You can learn from this and improve for the next game."
But the Premier League standings could look a lot more encouraging by the end of the weekend for City.
If City beat Swansea on Saturday and Manchester United inflict leader Chelsea's first league loss the following day, the Manchester rivals will both only be a point behind the west London club.
The season was progressing serenely for Chelsea this season — on the field at least — until a first loss of the season against Shakhtar Donetsk.
"We have to make sure we correct it very quickly and that starts with the next game against United," Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel said. "They will be very dangerous as usual and, if we defend the way we did (against Shakhtar), it's going to be difficult for us."
With John Terry serving his suspension for racial abuse, Chelsea will be without another veteran of United encounters. Frank Lampard is out for two weeks with a right calf injury.
But United haven't won a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge in a decade.
Further down the standings in ninth, Arsenal need to rebound quickly against last-place Queens Park Rangers today after successive losses in the Premier League and Champions League.
Also today, Aston Villa host Norwich, winless Reading take on Fulham, Sunderland are at Stoke and Wigan face West Ham.
Tomorrow, Brendan Rodgers will take charge of Liverpool for the first time in a derby against Everton, while fifth-place Tottenham are at Southampton and Newcastle host West Bromwich Albion.