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Who will win Manchester bragging rights in Premier League marathon?

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Once again it looks like Manchester v London in the race to win the Premier League. But will it be United or City who lead the challenge from the north west?

The 2015/2016 Premier League has already provided more shocks and surprises that many people expected.  The biggest surprise the early season collapse of defending champions Chelsea, a shadow of the team that dominated the league last season.  Who would have predicted West Ham United, Leicester City and Crystal Palace all being in the top six at this stage. While Arsenal  look a stronger bet than they have for  years.

As we enter match matchweek ten, both Manchester clubs have put themselves in a strong position to challenge for the title. City and United have both impressed in the opening weeks. And yet the occasional wobble adds to the pressure on two managers expected to deliver success at their respective clubs.

Old Trafford provides the setting for the 146th meeting between Manchester’s finest, which promises to be as fiery and feisty as ever.

Manchester City go into the game as the Premier League leaders following an ominous start to the season. Their early form suggested City would be unstoppable.  But consecutive defeats against West Ham and Tottenham prior to beating Newcastle (6-1) and Bournemouth (5-1) at the Etihad Stadium was a sign that Manuel Pellegrini’s men still have weaknesses that can be exploited.

United, on the other hand, find themselves just two points behind the early leaders, and Louis Van Gaal is moulding his team into potential title contenders. Following a hugely impressive 3-0 demolition of  Everton at Goodison, another United win will send them ahead of their noisy neighbours in the table. While City will be looking to maintain or even extend the two-point gap they currently hold over Arsenal, who entertain Everton in a tough Saturday evening clash.

Trying to call a winner between two teams who have plenty of quality going forward yet sometimes look vulnerable at the back is difficult. Those who feel brave enough to stick their neck on the line and predict a winner can do so at Coral football, where Pellegrini’s men are slight favourites at 13/8 compared to Manchester United at 8/5,. The odds are it will come down to a moment of brilliance or an error to separate the two sides in what promises to be a fascinating encounter.

Having won four consecutive derbies, prior to their 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford back in April, City will fancy their chances of derailing their rivals.. Scoring eleven goals in their previous two outings illustrates the considerable firepower that Pellegrini has at his disposal. But their strong start to the season is weakened by the absence of Sergio Aguero who picked up a hamstring injury on international duty and could be out until late November. David Silva could also miss out with an ankle problem he picked up playing for Spain. Samir Nasri remains on the sidelines, But City could welcome back Fabian Delph and Gael Clichy. While Kevin De Bruyne has been outstanding since his arrival for the Blues.

United’s ability to compete against the best teams was questioned when they slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal but that was a game where little went right for the Red Devils who provided the perfect response at Everton. The absence of Aguero who scored all three goals against United last season, including the winner in City’s 1-0 win at the Etihad last November may be a factor. Long-term absentees Ashley Young and Luke Shaw are the only first-team players missing for Manchester United.

The only certainty is that neither side will feel their title chances are over whatever the result of the Manchester derby.



October 23rd, 2015 at 9:40 am

Fergie’s mind games work whether he means it or not

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Is it any coincidence that Manchester City’s title challenge was dealt a huge blow at Southampton, just a few hours after Sir Alex Ferguson promised TV viewers that his side would not throw away points like they did in the title run-in last year against Wigan and Everton?

When Fergie told BBC interviewer Dan Walker “That mind games thing is definitely overrated. It’s a bit of a myth” I must admit I thought the Boss meant what he said. But after City self-destructed with a defensive horror show to crash 3-1 at St Mary’s, I’m not so sure.

There was certainly no doubt Sir Alex believes the 1-0 defeat at Wigan and the 4-4 draw against Everton last April were the fatal blows to United’s quest for their 20th League title when he declared: “We didn’t anticipate the unexpected at Wigan. That was a mistake. And when we played at Everton at home, 4-2 up with seven minutes to go, we didn’t anticipate a reaction from Everton coming back at us that way. That won’t happen this year.”

And just in case anyone missed what he said Fergie repeated his promise that “It won’t happen again – trust me!”

Whether or not this was a statement designed to put pressure on the champions, City crumbled at Southampton and it is hard to believe that any player does not listen to pre-match comments.

Roberto Mancini was surely playing mind games when he confidently announced yesterday that it will be “easy” for his side to bridge the nine-point gap behind United at the top. “If we can recover eight points in six games, I think to recover nine points in 13 games will be easy,” announced the Italian. But I am sure he will feel a lot less confident should City trail by 12 points should United beat Everton on Sunday. That would mean a 12 point lead with 12 to play.

The challenge for United is complicated by the showdown with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie that follows on Wednesday. Hence Fergie’s admission: “I’ve got to make sure I pick the right team. That’s the biggest challenge. We know their obvious strengths. The atmosphere will be absolutely fantastic. They don’t lose many games at the Bernabeu.”

But United have a formidable squad, arguably their strongest ever in Sir Alex’s 26 year dynasty at Old Trafford, and the painful memory of how the title slipped from their grasp in the corresponding match last season will be all the motivation needed this time round. Not to mention the manager has given his word that United will not repeat last season’s mistakes.


Asked by Dan Walker if he would feel the pressure if United went five years without winning a trophy, Sir Alex Ferguson sounded shocked at the suggestion. “It wouldn’t happen. Simple as that. No chance.” No wonder Arsenal’s most biased fan Piers Morgan announced on Twitter: “Watching Sir Alex on Football Focus. Wish he was Arsenal manager. There, I’ve said it.”             Sir Alex on Football Focus

Dan Walker's Football Focus interview with Sir Alex Ferguson

Dan Walker's Football Focus chat with Sir Alex Ferguson - click link above to listen to full interview

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Balotelli: champion who acts like a clown – but Milan’s swoop for Super Mario has robbed Premier League of flawed genius

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Whether you consider Mario Balotelli an immature champion with a touch of genius or a clown prince squandering his talents, the truth is the Premier League will be just a lttle poorer without him when he completes his £20 million move to Milan.

It does not matter where your allegiance lies, Ballotelli is box office and his antics on and off the field are guaranteed to entertain. The problem for Manchester City is that he is a maverick who can be a liability just as often as a matchwinner. And with the stakes so high for a club that boasts being the richest in the world, the powers that be at the Ethiad have decided he is no longer a gamble not worth taking.

Jose Mourinho, who worked with AC Milan-bound Balotelli at Inter Milan, famously called him “unmanageable” and described his time working with the Italian as a “comedy.”

Subject to a medical in Milan in the morning, the 22 year-old, who was signed by City for £24 million from Inter in 2010, has agreed a four-and-a-half year contract at the San Siro.

Reports in Italy suggest that Milan will pay £20 million plus bonuses for Balotelli, who will be taking a pay cut to move to the club he has supported since childhood.

The surprise is that Balotelli appears to have been unloaded against the will of manager Roberto Mancini, who has always nsisted he did not want to sell his young protege and only this month said he would give him a hundred chances after their training ground spat at Carrington.


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Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli must kiss and make up again – or Man City will have to spend big in January transfer market

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Roberto Mancini’s loyalty to his controversial striker Mario Balotelli, already tested by a series of high profile incidents, will once again have to survive intense public scrutiny after a heated training ground spat was caught on camera. The difference this time is that Manchester City’s attacking options are limited and the January transfer window offers the opportunity to make immediate changes.

But surely this time around  Balotelli has been cleared of all blame by the paparazzi photographs that do not look good for his manager. That is why Mancini will surely kiss and make up once again with the player he has consistently said could become one of the best in the world.

With Sergio Agüero sidelined by a hamstring injury that has ruled him out of this weekend’s FA Cup tie against  Watford game and doubtful for City’s Premier League meeting with Arsenal on 13 January, Balotelli was looking for a return to the starting line-up. That could still happen, whatever the popular media may suggest, because Mancini is a class act. Once the red-mist subsides it would be a huge mistake for him to punish his 22-year-old protege for being too agressive in training, especially with Balotelli’s defence already in the public domain.

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A witness told the Manchester Evening News: “Mancini ran at him — he was furious. He grabbed hold of him and appeared to try and throw him on the floor. It looked like Mario was too strong and he couldn’t get him down.Then all the coaches ran in to separate them but Mancini was having none of it. He kept trying to break free and have a go at him again.”

The incident was photographed by snappers camped outside City’s Carrington training ground where the pitches are visible from a public road and the sequence of pictures clearly show Mancini striding towards Balotelli and pointing in an aggressive manner. The manager looked out of control as he grabbed hold of Balotelli’s orange bib before the young striker was dragged away by a member of City’s coaching staff.

The incident was apparently triggered by a Balotelli challenge on Scott Sinclair that proved too severe for the manager’s liking,

It will be fascinating to see how Mancini responds in the morning to his latest fall-out with Balotelli when he faces the media in the cold light of day at his Friday press conference.

Balotelli has been involved in a succession of controversies since his £24m move from Inter Milan in August 2010. Only last month Mancini said  he was willing to give him another chance after he dropped his move to take the club to a tribunal over a two-week fine for missing 12 games last season because of suspensions. He told Gazzetta dello Sport: “The time of cheap talk is over. Balotelli is 22 years old and now it’s time to be professional. I ask from him seriousness and commitment in training, a more stable private life and correct behaviour on the pitch.”

The glare of the media spotlight, magnified by embarrassing photographs, make it difficult for the defending champions and their manager. But this time Balotelli is not the one who should be doing the apologising. On the evidence of what we have seen Mancini was the aggressor. How he deals with this storm in a tea cup will tell us more about the manager than a striker who can’t keep out of the headlines.

Meanwhile, City’s rivals United sit seven points clear at the top of the Premier League wondering how this latest Eastlands soap opera will affect their noisy neighbours.

Why Robin van Persie – the missing link for Manchester United’s Comeback Kings – is bringing best out of Sir Alex Ferguson

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It is only a matter of time before Manchester United tighten up their defensive frailties and when that happens Sir Alex Ferguson will once again have a team ready to conquer Europe. Do not rule out that happening this season with football’s greatest ever manager hellbent on crowning his career with victory in the Champions League Final at Wembley in May.

Robin van Persie's presence means Manchester United no longer rely on Wayne Rooney who did not feature in the 4-3 win over Newcastle United

Robin van Persie's presence means Manchester United no longer rely on Wayne Rooney who did not feature in the 4-3 win over Newcastle United

In the meantime, the football world can only marvel at the way the Reds have mastered the art of outscoring their Premier League opponents. The Comeback Kings did it yet again when they celebrated the holiday period with a breathtaking 4-3 Boxing Day triumph despite going behind three times against Newcastle.

Javier Hernandez grabbed the glory when he snatched the dramatic last minute winner at the Theatre of Dreams and the magnificent Mexican is once proving he is one of the world’s great predators in front of goal. But it is RVP who is now the main man at Old Trafford and gone are the days when United were over-reliant on Wayne Rooney.

Do not get me wrong. Rooney is still one of the best players in the world and his value to United is priceless. But it is no longer a crisis when Rooney is injured or off form – as he clearly was at Swansea on Sunday. RVP is a rare talent of a different kind and it is no exaggeration to compare his influence on Ferguson’s team to the effect Eric Cantona had when he famously inspired the first Premier League triumph for the Boss back in the early 90s.

It is no wonder that Fergie reacted so furiously when he saw the Dutchman take that blow from Ashley Williams at the Liberty Stadium. In the week he celebrates his 71st birthday there is clearly a spring in the step of the manager who clearly still has that raging hunger for more trophies. And the reason for that is largely due to the signing he this week described as the “missing link.’

Not only is he the missing link. But as his national manager Louis van Gaal also declared this week that 29-year-old Van Persie “has become an even better player at United.”

The Holland boss declared: “Robin van Persie is getting ­better and better – it’s incredible. He is a super ­professional player who really knows what he wants from his ­career and how he will achieve it. I have never seen any player reach Robin’s age and still improve as a footballer. Moving to United has been good for him – and it has been good for Holland.”


Pat Crerand radio rant: phone-in just a cheap shot by BBC journalists trying to blame Rio Ferdinand for hooligan fans

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It is typical of declining standards at the BBC these days that this morning’s 5Live Phone-in deliberately promoted the idea that Rio Ferdinand was to blame for outragous fan behaviour at Sunday’s Manchester derby. It was the latest shameless attempt by the radio station to boost their ratings.

With many callers given airtime, who – like the presenters – had not even seen United’s 3-2 derby win over City, it was yet another hatchet job by lazy journalists trying to fuel public misconception. Anyone with any common sense will be applauding Manchester United legend Pat Crerand for ridiculing the suggestion that Ferdinand was at fault for celebrating the sensational injury time winner.

Ferdinand was hit by a coin as he celebrated the dramatic 94th minute strike by Robin van Persie. Earlier Wayne Rooney, who scored a double to give United a 2-nil lead, was pelted by coins when he lined up to take a corner. And Joe Hart had to intervene when a hooligan wearing City colours ran onto the pitch and tried to get to Ferdinand.

The real issue here is that there is an ugly hard core of hooligans once again tarnishing the beautiful game. There can be no excuse under any circumstances for so-called fans to throw coins or any other missiles at players on a football pitch. No matter how much supporters pay for tickets it does not give them the right to act like animals and run onto the pitch and attack the players.

For the BBC to give credence to the suggestion that fans at any Premier league match only react in such a manner because players celebrate scoring a goal is pure insanity – or as Paddy put it: “ludicrous.”

Crerand has built a cult following on MUTV for his opinionated comments and unbridled passion for Manchester United and it has been my great pleasure to get to know the man behind the microphone, who became a legend along with Best, Law and Charlton in Sir Matt Busby’s 1968 European Cup winning team.

For the past three months I have been filming a documentary with Crerand to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of his association with Manchester United. And I can promise you that this will be a football programme you will not want to miss. The documentary gets its first screening on MUTV on Sunday, 3 February 2013

There is no one in football quite like Paddy, who famously rang a radio station to defend Eric Cantona on the night the Frenchman kung-fu kicked a yob in the crowd after he was sent-off in the match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park back in 1995.

Paddy Crerand: passionate defence of Rio Ferdinand

Paddy Crerand: passionate defence of Rio Ferdinand



Chris Warburton: We’ve had a lot of people getting in touch saying the players have to take a bit of responsibility, stop celebrating in front of opposing fans and stoking it up. I just wondered what your thoughts are on that?

Paddy Crerand: Who’s said that? Who’s made that statement?

CW: We’ve had various calls and texts from our listeners, Paddy.

PC: What planet do they live on?

CW: Well, you tell me.

PC: Well, I’ve no idea. I was at the game yesterday, do you expect fans not to celebrate when their team scores a goal?

CW: No, no, what they’re suggesting is that players are going up to opposing fans and celebrating in front of them and that that stokes the crowd up.

PC: I was at the game yesterday and that is absolute rubbish. Who suggested that, and where did that come from? Absolute garbage. How many people phoned you up? One? Two? Three?

CW: No, no, we’ve had various texts this morning saying the same thing as well.

PC: Well how many? Tell me how many. If you’re going to make a statement like you’re making a statement now, tell me how many.

CW: Just take it from me that we have had a good number of texts…

PC: I’m not taking it from you, you tell me.

CW: Well, I haven’t got it to hand Paddy.

PC: Well why make a statement then, if you haven’t got it to hand? No I’m not taking it from you, why do you make a statement like that when you haven’t got the evidence?

CW: Well, what do you think of the point?

PC: I think the point is absolutely ludicrous. You go to a football match, or any sporting situation, and you think people shouldn’t celebrate? What planet are your people on at all?

CW: No, no, that’s not what’s being suggested.

PC: That’s what you’re suggesting.

CW: In terms of…

PC: In terms of what? Now you’re making excuses for yourself.

CW: I was going to ask you a different question Paddy.

PC: Yeah, go on then.

CW: In terms of the environment at a derby, how has it changed from when you were playing?

PC: It’s not changed in any way whatsoever. I don’t care that it’s a derby, or any football match, people celebrate when their team scores a goal. What do you expect them to do, be quiet? I don’t know what you’re suggesting, I’m totally amazed. Just a minute please – is this a publicity stunt?

CW: No. I think I’ve been quite clear in what I’m saying to you Paddy. Let me ask you a question about the football.

PC: Yeah, well ask me a sensible question then. Don’t talk stupid and ask me daft questions about whether fans should celebrate or not.

CW: Well we asked Danny Mills the question about an hour ago, Paddy, and he gave us quite a reasonable answer.

PC: Well what did he say to you? I’ve no idea what Danny Mills says to you, what was his reasonable answer?

CW: He told us that you can’t hold players in any way responsible.

PC: Of course you can’t. Why make a thing about a sensible answer that Danny Mills gave you that people should celebrate? Of course they should celebrate.

Rachel Burden: I think there might be a bit of misunderstanding here. A number of people texted the programme and people called Five Live…

PC: How many texts? A million?

RB: If you’d let me finish…

PC: Half a million?

RB: If you’d let me finish…

PC: Hundred thousand?

RB: If you’d let me finish the point…

PC: Yes.

RB: …and the point was about Rio Ferdinand going down to an area where home fans were and celebrating in front of them.

PC: Let me say something to you. Did you watch the game yesterday?

RB: I listened to it.

PC: Well you didn’t watch it then, you don’t know what happened then. Rio Ferdinand was nowhere near where the away fans – where the home fans were. He gets struck by a coin that somebody’s thrown from about 15 or 20 yards, it’s not like he was standing in front of their supporters jumping up and down. He was 15 or 20 yards from their fans.

RB: Do you remember things like that happening when you were playing in these derbies?

PC: I don’t remember anything like that happening, no.

RB: So do you think the atmosphere has got worse over the years?

PC: Why did you change commentators? Why have you come on all of a sudden?

RB: That’s just the way it works on the programme, we both join in together.

CW: Don’t worry, I haven’t run scared Paddy.

PC: Oh, I thought you’d run away there for a minute. No, but let me say, it was a great football match, no question about that. When it went to two each, I thought City were the team that were going to win it. Manchester United finished up winning with a deflected goal and you can’t not accept the fact that fans would celebrate when the third goal went in. And derby matches are a lot different from ordinary matches, obviously, but why somebody would throw something at Rio Ferdinand is totally stupid. Why a fan would run on the pitch…

And to be fair to Manchester City, a United fan ran on to the pitch last year when United beat City 4-3. So the effects of football on people sometimes can go to the extreme, it shouldn’t happen but it does happen unfortunately. And particularly in matches that are local derbies.


While morons attack Ferdinand, hero Hart protects City’s honour in defeat – but all hail untouchables Rooney and Van Persie in classic

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When Joe Hart sprang to the defence of Rio Ferdinand and blocked the path of a mindless hooligan who ran onto the Etihad pitch to try to attack the Manchester United defender it represented everything that was good and bad about the biggest derby of them all.

The morons who bring shame on the greatest football league in the world will never understand that the real heroes are the ones who are not only great players but respect and admire their rivals.

Hart is without doubt the best England goalkeeper for many years and Ferdinand has been the most skilful footballing defender of his generation. To see Hart put the shameless Manchester City yob in his place was the perfect response to bring sanity to a shocking few seconds that began with Ferdinand being hit above the eye by a coin thrown from the crowd.

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This was a Manchester derby that touched the dramatic heights that has made the Premier League the most exciting and popular domestic competition in world sport – and it deserves to be remembered for the brilliant football match that it was.

The big flop was Mario Balotelli who demonstrated once again that he does not have the class or consistency to match truly great players who are both brilliant and eccentric. He is just a poor, immature shadow of a true genius like Eric Cantona.

While the embarrassing Balotelli ended up marching down the tunnel in a sulk after being hooked by the manager he let down, the stars of the show served up a feast of outstanding drama.

Wayne Rooney was at his brilliant best. City rode their luck when a linesman’s flag spared them from trailing 3-nil to stage a Carlos Tevez inspired fightback. But the player of the season so far Robin van Persie struck the 94th minute winner that crushed the defending champions 3-2 and sent Sir Alex Ferguson’s untouchables six points clear at the top. Priceless.

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Ferguson v Mancini is always an absorbing side show in the derby that is once again the biggest of them all – and Sir Alex is still the master

It’s never over til the fat lady sings . . .

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180 - Wayne Rooney's double against Everton takes him past George Best's United goals tally of 179

180 - Wayne Rooney's double against Everton takes him past George Best's United goals tally of 179


Leading 4-2 against Everton, Manchester United took their eye off the ball and let the Merseysiders off the hook to steal a point in a thrilling 4-4 draw.

It was a sickening blow for United on the day Wayne Rooney scored a double to take him past George Best and Denis Violet in the Reds’ all-time goal-scoring chart.

But it does not change the fact Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will go to the Etihad Stadium in the box seat on April 30 and the destiny of the title is still in their hands. It’s never over til the fat lady sings – and United fans know that better than anyone.

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While Balotelli the clown may have cost Mancini his job, Scholes the master has given United extra class that makes them champions

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Why always me? Balotelli's red card is just another embarrassment

Why always me? Balotelli's red card is just another embarrassment


It is never over until the fat lady sings and there are still six matches remaining – but Easter Sunday may well go down as the day time ran out for Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and his flawed talisman Mario Balotelli.

When City’s 1-nil defeat at Arsenal followed United’s 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers it left Mancini’s men eight points adrift. But it is the way that City have crumbled and the effect on the team of their crazy Italian striker, sent off for the fourth time in his short City career at the Emirates, that has damaged Mancini and put the manager’s job on the line.

Under the pressure of keeping pace with Sir Alex Ferguson’s team – a young side in transition yet still laced with the experience and know-how to close in on a record 20th League title – City have crashed and burned. And Balotelli’s self-destruction has been as spectacular as it has been predictable.

When City’s doomsday scenario unraveled at the Emirates, Balotelli’s red card crowned a a shocking personal display by the maverick Italian striker that left former Manchester United skipper Gary Neville to deliver the harsh reality that will haunt Mancini.

As Balotelli left the field Neville concluded: “He’s placed his faith in him Roberto Mancini but it’s a circus and every time I’ve been to a circus there’s always been some clowns. He lets you down time and time again.”

Balotelli – who should have been sent off early in the first half for a shocking challenge on Alex song – was finally red-carded in the dying minutes for a wreckless lunge on Bacary Sagna. The fact that Mancini has put so much faith in the former Inter Milan star, who Jose Mourinho famously said is ‘unmanageable’, has damaged Mancini and almost certainly cost City their hopes of winning the Premier League title.

After watching the Italian spend £240 million on assembling a team to challenge champions Manchester United, the mega rich Arab owners must be wondering how could things do so badly wrong for a team that were once eight points clear of the Red Devils.

Paul Scholes has been irresistible since coming out of his premature retirement

Paul Scholes has been irresistible since coming out of his premature retirement

United in contrast have been unbeatable in the League since Paul Scholes came out of retirement at the beginning of January, winning 34 out of a possible 36 points with the ginger genius pulling the strings.

When Patrick Vieira jealously claimed United’s decision to recall Scholes was a sign of “weakness” in the Old Trafford squad he could not have been more wrong. At the age of 37, Scholes is a master craftsman still at the top of his game who brings brilliance and an extra touch of class to his team. His modest personality and exquisite reliability is the exact opposite of the madman from Milan who has brought shame on his club and made himself a laughing stock with a series of antics that would destabilise any club.

Mancini it seems has finally seen the light and declared that Balotelli will not feature in City’s final six matches. But the damage has been done and whether or not Mancini will recover from this latest bruising setback only time will tell.

Roberto Mancini put his faith in Balotelli and has been badly let down

Roberto Mancini put his faith in Balotelli and has been badly let down

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Mind games: Roberto Mancini’s mistakes have put pressure on Manchester City in title race that proves it’s marathon not sprint

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Mancini promised City fans: "We WILL win the title."

After telling City fans: "We WILL win the title" the pressure is now on Roberto Mancini


When David Platt recently ridiculed suggestions that mind games would play a part in the outcome of the Premier League title race, he must have overlooked the ill-advised words by his manager Roberto Mancini that put unnecessary pressure on Manchester City.The Italian boss did his side no favours, and wound up defending champions United in the process, when he promised City fans with 10 matches remaining: ‘We will win the title.’It was a bold and provocative statement as much out of character as Kevin Keegans infamous rant when the wheels were coming off Newcastle United’s title charge that crumbled in 1996.

Mancini’s boast was a desperate attempt to inspire his expensive squad of players who have no experience in closing out a title-winning campaign. The sense of desperation in Mancini’s eyes spoke volumes. It was followed by a fortunate victory over Chelsea thanks to a lucky penalty award that turned the match late in the game. But successive draws against Stoke and Sunderland have seen City falter when  the pressure has been on to keep winning.

Title rivals United, in contrast, made it six straight wins in the Premier League when they held their nerve to beat a stubborn Fulham last Monday and now have the chance to open up a five point lead with seven to play. That is the prize if United can avenge their home defeat by Blackburn earlier in the season and claim victory at Ewood Park on Monday night.No one in the United camp will be taking anything for granted in a League where every match is a possible banana skin for the top clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson promised as much after his side rode their luck and survived a late penalty appeal in the dying minutes of their 1-0 win over Fulham.

But United have players their manager has 100 percent faith in, unlike at neighbours City, where Mancini’s destiny could rely on two players he does not trust – Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.

The difference between Fergie and Mancini is that Sir Alex has been there and done it all before – and so have most of his players. The canny Scot would never have put pressure on his team the way Mancini has. Every word he utters to the media is measured with the precision of an expert psychologist. That is why he is the master of the mind games that do come into play at this stage of the season, whatever Platt may like to have us believe.

The old adage that this is a marathon not a sprint has never been more appropriate than this season as Manchester’s top two battle it out for the title. While cocksure City looked unbeatable earlier in the season, now it is United who are showing their class and experience as they grind out straight wins – despite being in transition with so many youngsters in the squad.

While Mancini has had to swallow his pride and bring back Carlos Tevez, which can’t have been done without some psychological effect on at least some of his players, Fergie has been blessed with the return of the peerless Paul Scholes to settle Fergie’s young team.

Mancini has been honest enough to accept the blame on more than one occasion for tactical decisions that have cost his team points. That may come back to haunt him when his bosses assess the damage at the end of the season if he fails to deliver City’s first league title since 1968. Failure to beat Sunderland this afternoon when they were held to a 3-3 draw despite a brave fightback with two late goals, left the Italian critical of his players who have wilted under the spotlight.

There are bound to be more twists before the end. But it is now United’s title to lose – and you won’t find many bookies betting against the Reds making it League title no. 20.

Master of the mind games: Sir Alex Ferguson measures every word

Master of the mind games: Sir Alex Ferguson measures every word and his players reap benefits