Mancini: City are closing the gap on United - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Mancini: City are closing the gap on United

Even Sir Alex Ferguson thinks rivals have 'turned a corner' but Italian wants his side to toughen up as they head for Old Trafford

Manchester City timed things rather excellently yesterday when they chose the eve of their biggest league derby in over 40 years to call Carlos Tevez to account.

It had been widely expected that they would not overshadow the build-up to tomorrow's Manchester derby by staging the striker's disciplinary hearing so soon before it, but this felt like City doing things their way and beginning to cast off Sir Alex Ferguson's cast-off once and for all. It seemed like they were stealing United's clothes when they signed Tevez three years ago but yesterday they were a club standing on two feet, putting all that "Welcome to Manchester" baloney in the past, along with the old obsessions of getting one over on United. No better time to do it than the weekend they walk into Old Trafford as the league leaders.

In a build-up marked yesterday by some extraordinary managerial courtesies which took us a very long way from Paddy Crerand knocking out David Wagstaffe in the tunnel at Maine Road in 1963 and Nobby Stiles punching the dressing room wall in the same stadium, Micah Richards was the one most worth listening to when he spoke of the significance of also dispensing with that City bête noire – the Old Trafford "35 Years" [since winning a trophy] banner. "To be honest, it was more our fans who got worked up about that banner," Richards said. "United now know, much as they won't say it, we are a genuine threat. To get that banner taken down is quality. We have got the last laugh."

This was good banter, not a malicious taunt, and Richards spoke with a smile on his face – but the words reflected a Manchester City who arrive with identity, 27 goals to United's 25, and two points more at the top. When Roberto Mancini said yesterday that his former chief executive Garry Cook had been right to suggest City could ultimately be as big as United – "I think this as well. I think that should be our target" – the City manager framed the aspiration as something less parochial than a fight between two institutions separated by a five-mile stretch of the Greater Manchester road network. "When you have Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, you work to be like one of them," he said. "This should be our target."

The stakes are so high and the risk of hubris so great that it was difficult to discern how sincere either manager was amid their mutual appreciation yesterday. Mancini was still making his way in the game at Sampdoria when Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in 1986 and after a check with his translator about the enunciation of the number "69", he declared that "it must be difficult to get to his age and have the same strength and every day want to win". Mancini does not seem to expect the same longevity. "Kit man in the new training facility!" he said, when asked what he would be doing at that age. "Like Chappy eh?!" with a nod to Les Chapman, currently City's man in possession of the vests.

The Italian, who reaches his 100th game in charge of City tomorrow, was more convincing when locating a deficit between his own side and that of the manager 23 years his senior. It is 43 days since Mancini declared United to be "two yards ahead" of City and yesterday he said this could only partially be revised down. "Now it's one yard," he said. "United over City – it's one yard now because we've worked very well and reduced the gap."

United remained the better club because of an amorphous quality he did not entirely define but which was located in that fabled psychological rigour Ferguson instils in his players. "United is United," was how Mancini defined it. "It is like a team that every year wins something. I think when one team every year continues to win it is normal to be there [ahead of the rest]. United has one thing that we don't have yet: when they play badly they win the game. We are missing that."

"United is United" in other ways, too – like players warming up when asked, not simply by dint of the manager's authority but because of an inner dressing-room code, inculcated by generation succeeding generation at the club. The discipline is self-policing. It allows incendiary bust-ups but not a Tevez type of insurrection.

Had City signed John Terry from Chelsea two years ago and not lost faith in Craig Bellamy, they might have someone to police such a regime but that's where the deficit lies and it may take several years to make up. Mancini has watched games at Old Trafford that will tell him he should have hope for tomorrow, nonetheless. "Norwich had I don't know how many chances. Chelsea [was the same]," he enthused – and with United by no means unbreachable, the temptation must be to attack them. He will probably revert to defensive type though, and was last night leaning towards starting with James Milner rather than Samir Nasri, on the basis that City will need to spend time winning back possession. Expect two holding midfielders, too. "If we leave Old Trafford with a draw that will be good but we do not go with that mentality," he said, which seemed significant.

He must also rein in his full-backs to prevent United's wide men causing the same carnage which befell City at Franck Ribéry's hands at Bayern Munich last month.

It was Roy Keane who railed against a United side "deceived into thinking we were something better than we were by beating nothings in the Premiership" amid United's European failings after 1999. Tomorrow will tell us whether City are something similar. Though their 5-1 win at Tottenham in August was a statement, their fixture schedule has been generous – six of their eight games coming against sides in the bottom eight. Mario Balotelli is likely to be favoured ahead of Edin Dzeko up front, with training yesterday focusing on getting him in behind defenders.

Ferguson acknowledged for the first time yesterday that something clicked when City won the FA Cup in May. "It was the first time they'd won something for 35 years and that is a turning point," he said. "We all reach points in life and say: 'This is a different life now', whether it is a job or winning the lottery. Look at that couple who won the lottery – €110m – do you not think that was a turning point in their life! We all have points in our lives when it happens."

The Abu Dhabis have delivered many times more cash than that – but it's an expensive business getting Manchester United out of your system.

Noisy Neighbours: Recent Manchester ding-dongs

United 4-3 City, 20 Sept 2009

Manchester City believed that they had taken a point after Craig Bellamy scored their third equaliser of a thrilling game in the final minute. But six minutes into stoppage time, Michael Owen slotted home Ryan Giggs' pass to give United a remarkable 4-3 victory.

City 2-1 United, 19 January 2010

Carlos Tevez scores twice as City go into a 2-1 first-leg lead in the Carling Cup semi-final. Tevez celebrates his second goal in front of the technical areas, having moved from United to City six months before.

United 3-1 City, 27 January 2010

A week later, Wayne Rooney sends United into the Carling Cup final with a stoppage time headed goal, four months after Owen's similarly late winner. The tie had been set for extra time but Rooney made it 4-3 on aggregate.

United 2-1 City, 12 February 2011

With 12 minutes remaining, the game is level at 1-1 and City look to be coming away from Old Trafford with a crucial point. Rooney again intervenes, producing one of the greatest goals in Manchester derby history: an acrobatic bicycle-kick into the far corner to win the game.

City 1-0 United, 16 April 2011

A tense FA Cup semi-final at Wembley is settled by Yaya Toure's second-half goal, sending City through to their first final for 30 years. Mario Balotelli's celebrations in front of United fans at the final whistle led to scuffles between players after the match.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skies as 007 for first time
Sport
footballThe latest scores and news from Dortmund vs Arsenal and Liverpool vs Ludogorets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
Life and Style
techCriminals now targeting e-readers
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Life and Style
fashion
Travel
news This video may make you think twice about ever taking the Tube again
Life and Style
A spider is seen in its web on September 16, 2014 in Hohen Meissner, Germany.
tech The 'Spider in Da House' app has been developed by scientists to tackle arachnophobia
Life and Style
fashionIncredibly, it hasn't been branded 'Will.eye.am'
News
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
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

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
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week