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



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
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam