Not for the first time, Roberto Mancini claims Manchester City are out of the title race.
A 1-0 loss at Arsenal last April left City eight points behind leaders Manchester United, with only six matches of the campaign remaining. And even when the Reds fell to a shock defeat at Wigan Athletic which allowed the Blues to cut this deficit to five points, Mancini was adamant that there was no chance Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would slip up again.
On that occasion, of course, the Italian was wrong. United twice blew a two goal lead to gift Everton a point at Old Trafford, and a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium gave their neighbours the initiative to win their last two games and take a first league title since 1968, courtesy of goal difference and a stoppage time Sergio Aguero strike.
Fast forward to this season, and City face an even bigger task to retain their crown. With nine games left to play, they trail United by a staggering 15 points, and by the time they take to the field to play Newcastle United on Saturday, this could be 18 as United take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in the early kick-off.
When City depart Old Trafford on April 8, there is every chance they will be leaving the trophy with them. It is little wonder, then, that Mancini is raising the white flag again.
“It’s over, but this doesn’t change anything because we should do our best from now to the end,” said the Italian coach ahead of the visit of Newcastle. “We have Chelsea (third place) four points behind, Tottenham Hotspur (fourth place) five points behind and we play another nine games. For this reason it’s important to keep working hard.”
When Mancini conceded the title last season, there were hardly any arguments; this time, there are even fewer. Should United relinquish their grip on the title from the advantage they currently hold, it would make last season’s collapse look like a mere blip.