On the eve of the local derby that could decide the Premier League title, Sir Alex Ferguson has conceded that if Manchester City beat his Manchester United side at the Etihad Stadium, they will succeed them as champions.
Although both managers have engaged in psychological warfare this season – rather unconvincingly in Roberto Mancini's case – Ferguson appeared sincere when he told a Sunday newspaper briefing that in the event of a City victory tomorrow evening: "I think they probably will win it. They would have a great chance." City go to Newcastle next weekend, then face Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the season.
With a draw, however, Ferguson believes United would go on to retain their title following games at home to Swansea and away to Sunderland. "I think we could win it from there. It must be in our favour with two games to go, a home game and away one. I think we would be happy with that. But we're going there trying to win." Mancini is sticking to his line that United are favourites whatever happens because they have "two easy games" to come, an assertion that has upset Swansea's Brendan Rodgers and Sunderland's Martin O'Neill.
If he is hoping to spur those sides on he may have succeeded by insisting: "Even if we win this game, they are the favourites because they play one difficult game against us and two easy ones." That argument enables him to add: "We don't have any pressure because we have nothing to lose."
City have Mario Balotelli available after his three-match suspension and Mancini says he can "trust him" in such an important game, but he may not be needed with Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero in such fine form.
The City manager believes it will be a good game for the vast worldwide television audience because "like us they want to win always, they don't have the mentality to play fora draw".
Ferguson's other hope is that the officials avoid any repeat of the mistakes and controversies that had pockmarked the domestic season. "A game of this nature could be decided by anything," he said. "You hope it won't be a bad decision that's for sure. It's important it's a good game because we're representing the city all over the world. There's 203 countries going to watch it, [the Uefa president] Michel Platini's making the effort to come and watch it. It creates a certain occasion and we want to represent ourselves the right way."
Some 600 police officers will be on duty while United have been allocated 2,800 tickets for the match.