Roberto Mancini hopes Manchester United can beat Real Madrid

Manchester City boss hopes European exploits will disrupt United's league form

Roberto Mancini will be cheering Manchester United to Champions League success against Real Madrid next week - but only because it will give Manchester City more chance of retaining their Barclays Premier League title.

The consolation from his own side's exit from Europe's number one club competition was that the Blues chief has always felt it could be the distraction to United that aids City's cause.

That belief was heightened when the Red Devils were paired with Real in a blockbuster last 16 tie, which will be played at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Such is the nature of the rivalry between the two clubs, most City fans will want United to lose no matter what the impact to their own team.

However, Mancini is being more pragmatic about the situation.

"It is normal when you play against Real Madrid in the Champions League you can lose your strength," he said.

"So I support Manchester United to go through in the Champions League."

The odds remain stacked against City, who have slipped nine points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's men after drawing their last two games, against QPR and Liverpool.

Mancini is refusing to throw in the towel.

After all, he reasons, given the Blues were eight points behind with only six games remaining last season and managed to turn the situation around in their favour, why can it not happen again?

"Manchester United have done better than us this season because they won a lot of games," said Mancini.

"They have nine points more than us.

"But if we can recover eight points in six games, recovering nine in 13 games will be easy.

"I never remember the title race being finished 10 or 13 games before the end.

"Three years ago Chelsea were nine points behind at one point. By the time they played at Old Trafford two or three games from the end, they were only three points behind.

"In the end, if Manchester United win all their games from now to the end of the season, they deserve to win.

"But I am sure we have another chance."

Not according to rumours that swept around Manchester last night that suggested Mancini was set to resign over apparent annoyance at Mario Balotelli's departure.

At the very least, it was claimed, senior figures at City had told the Italian his services would no longer be required at the end of the season.

Mancini was either ignoring those rumours, or oblivious to them today when he was asked whether he would still be in charge next term.

"Yes," he said. "Why not?"

The possible return from injury of skipper Vincent Kompany and African Nations Cup duty in the case of Yaya and Kolo Toure offers a significant selection boost ahead of tomorrow evening's trip to Southampton.

Yet the fact remains unless City complete another great escape, they will end up with only the FA Cup to play for, having made zero progress on the European front.

It is hard to imagine owner Sheikh Mansour being too impressed about that given his vast investment and knowing Jose Mourinho is likely to be looking for a job in the summer.

But Mancini believes some satisfaction can be gained from the campaign, even if City lose their status as England's number one club.

"It is important we are there, on the top and fighting for the title every year," he said.

"If another team is better than you, you should accept it.

"But I don't think anyone has played better than us over the last two years.

"Manchester United are a strong team, so are Chelsea but in the last two years Manchester City is the team that played better in the Premier League.

"We are unlucky because we lost players in January to the African Nations Cup.

"But last year no one believed we could win the title and in the end we won. This year could be the same."

PA

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