If Manchester United win the next two, it's over claims Roberto Mancini

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 3: City manager ready to raise the white flag while Balotelli is heading for the exit despite double

The Etihad Stadium

Roberto Mancini admitted that should Manchester United win their next two fixtures then the title race will be "finished". It was not a concession speech, more an acknowledgement that victories over Blackburn Rovers tonight and Queen's Park Rangers on Sunday lunchtime would take the champions eight points clear at the top of the table by the time Manchester City kick off at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal next Sunday afternoon.

Since City have not secured a league victory at Arsenal since October 1975, whittling down that lead would appear beyond a side that looks exhausted and riven by ill-fortune and dressing-room feuding. "If we go eight points behind, then it is finished," admitted Mancini. He qualified those remarks by adding that he would bet that United would draw at Blackburn tonight. But this is a man who, despite a salary of more than £5m, still has a flutter on the National Lottery. And there is no record of him having won anything.

As Newcastle's lead over United evaporated in the epic spring of 1996, Kevin Keegan began talking of how the club had not finished second in almost 70 years and that doing so now would be an achievement. After a thrilling, draining encounter with Sunderland, Mancini began using similar language.

"We are Manchester City, we have 71 points, 13 ahead of Arsenal and 15 points more than Chelsea," he said. "I think we have improved from last season. It is clear we want to win the title and we will fight until the derby with United because I think that will decide our season."

Of the team he has assembled, David Silva and Samir Nasri have looked shot and exhausted. Edin Dzeko is badly out of form and the loss of Sergio Aguero to what Mancini called a "stupid, stupid injury" – believed to be a reaction to a chemical spray – must have seemed the final, brittle straw.

When City began a comeback against Sunderland that saw them score twice in a minute to salvage a wholly improbable point, Mancini's assistant, Brian Kidd, gave a leap in the air.

It was slightly more geriatric than the one that saw him collapse on his knees when Steve Bruce scored two late goals against Sheffield Wednesday to swing the 1993 title race decisively United's way. However, when Mario Balotelli scored spectacularly, his manager remained impassive.

"I don't know what the team is lacking but we were really flat in the first half," said Mancini. "I don't think a strong team like us can produce a performance like we did here for 70 minutes. This was really strange but some players played really badly. Mario did nothing for 70 minutes but scored two goals. I don't like it when he plays like this.

"I don't like anything about his display because it is my opinion that a player of his quality cannot behave like this. Mario has everything he needs to do his job but he doesn't understand his situation very well."

The relationship between Mancini and Balotelli is often described as one between a father and an errant son. However, the rift between the two men looks irreparably wide.

David Beckham, who enjoyed a similar kind of relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, said he knew exactly when it had broken down. It was April 2003 and he had just scored twice against Real Madrid in a European Cup quarter-final. After the match, at home in Alderley Edge, he sat down to watch the highlights and noted Ferguson gave a blank stare when he scored. He was sold within months.

Balotelli is unlikely to be long for Eastlands. Mancini preferred not to dwell on the 21-year-old's goals but the wretchedness of the rest of his performance that climaxed with a stand-up row with Aleksandar Kolarov over who should take a free-kick.

Given the menace with which the Serbian defender approached the striker, it may be safe to assume there are some at the club who actively loathe Balotelli, and that their chief complaint is that he is given far too much latitude by his manager.

That, however, may have come to a jarring end. Far more than a pre-match visit to a Liverpool strip club, Mancini is likely to have been mortified by Balotelli's decision to fly to Milan and then gate-crash Internazionale's press conference announcing the appointment of their new manager, Andrea Stramaccioni.

Mancini, who still has deep links with Inter, recalled making up five points in five games to win Serie A. His opposite number on Saturday, Martin O'Neill, who had overseen a sparkling performance from Sunderland that might have been better reserved for their FA Cup quarter-final against Everton in midweek, added that Manchester United still had to come to Sunderland on the final afternoon of the season. They were brave words but they might already be too late.

Match details

Man City: HART 6/10, RICHARDS 5, KOMPANY 6, K TOURE 6, KOLAROV 6, SILVA 5, Y TOURE 5, DEJONG 6, MILNER 5, DZEKO 3, BALOTELLI 6

Sunderland: MIGNOLET 7, COLBACK 7, KILGALLON 7, TURNER 6, BARDSLEY 7, McCLEAN 6, GARDNER 5, CATTERMOLE 6, LARSSON 7, SESSEGNON 8, BENDTNER 7

Scorers: Man City Balotelli pen 43, 85, Kolarov 86. Sunderland Larsson 31, 55, Bendtner 45.

Substitutes: Man City Johnson 6 (Richards, h-t), Tevez 5 (Silva, 58), Pizarro (Milner, 81). Sunderland Kyrgiakos (Kilgallon, 81), Vaughan (Cattermole, 90).

Booked: Man City De Jong. Sunderland Gardner.

Man of the match Sessegnon. Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Man City 52% Sunderland 48%.

Attempts on target: Man City 10 Sunderland 4.

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 47,007.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue