Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believes his side can reignite the title race by cutting Manchester United's Barclays Premier League lead before next month's derby.
Mancini has refused to concede defeat despite the champions falling 12 points behind United a month ago and being given no opportunity by their rivals to reduce the deficit since.
The Italian is relying on favours from elsewhere but is determined to pounce on any United slip-ups in the two rounds of fixtures before the sides meet at Old Trafford on April 8. Mancini said: "The next two or three games will be crucial. If they lose a point in the next two games - maybe."
He continued: "After the two games, we have the derby. But it all depends on us. When you are behind you should win every game.
"We hope we can play a derby with nine, seven points, maybe 10. Less than 12 would be better. From the derby to the end of the season, they have three or four difficult games."
City will get the chance to apply some pressure to United as they are the first in action this weekend. City take on Everton at Goodison Park at Saturday lunchtime before United face struggling Reading at Old Trafford in the evening.
But Mancini accepts keeping City's end of the bargain will be tough enough with his side having a poor recent record against the Toffees. City have lost five of their last seven against the Merseysiders and they played out a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium in December.
Mancini said: "Every game against Everton is very hard. It is difficult because Everton are a top team, they play always 100 per cent. They are strong, they have good players and a good manager.
"They always play well against top clubs. If you want to beat Everton, you should be ready to fight in every position. They work hard as a team. For every team it is difficult against them."
City will again be without injured captain Vincent Kompany and striker Sergio Aguero. Kompany has missed seven games with calf problems while Aguero has been back to Argentina to receive treatment on the knee injury that has sidelined him for the last two matches.