Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini tries his hand at mind games with Alex Ferguson
MANCHESTER City manager Roberto Mancini has attempted some reverse psychology in the Premier League mind games battle by heaping praise on title rivals Manchester United.
Manchester United assistant-manager Rene Meulensteen highlighted the spirit within United's camp as the major reason for their present five-point advantage, coupled with its better balance.
Sir Alex Ferguson refused to elaborate on Meulensteen's comments, aware of their potential for riling City and offering them easy motivation ahead of their encounter with Norwich at Carrow Road tomorrow.
However, rather than defend his squad, Mancini said Meulensteen was right.
"I agree with him," said the City chief. "This is why I say we can't win.
"They have big experience and a fantastic team. They have everything. We have nothing.
"But I am proud of my players for everything, including our mistakes.
"We are not on the moon. We are normal, like all normal people we can make mistakes."
After cutting United's lead to five points by beating West Brom on Sunday, victory at Norwich will slice further into their rivals' advantage ahead of their encounter with Aston Villa on Sunday.
However, Mancini has warned of the obvious dangers lying in wait at Carrow Road.
Mancini clearly does not see motivation or focus being a problem for the eagerly-awaited derby encounter at the Etihad Stadium on April 30.
The same cannot be said for this weekend.
"The derby is easy," he said. "We can lose it but it is not a hard game. We don't have any problem with it.
"You know when you play against United or Chelsea, your concentration is 100 per cent.
"The problem will be against Norwich. Against Norwich you might think it is an easy game.
"But it will be really tough. They are a good team and we have only had two days to recover."
City could be strengthened by the return of Yaya Toure, who missed out in midweek after picking up a knee injury in the early stages of last Sunday's defeat at Arsenal.
There is little doubt the Blues are a more formidable side when Toure is available, yet Mancini still doubts whether City can overhaul the Old Trafford outfit.
"It is very difficult," he said. "That doesn't mean we don't want to try or we don't have a small chance to win.
"But I hope we play like we did until three or four weeks ago, not how we played against Arsenal."
If City do come up short, the key question will be whether the club's mega-rich owner Sheikh Mansour retains enough patience in Mancini.
Although a reputation for considered decisions has grown around Sheikh Mansour and chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak in their dealings at City, they proved how quickly they were prepared to act by axing Mark Hughes two-and-a-half years ago.
Yet Mancini does not feel the end-of-season judgement will be a harsh one, pointing out that, while City have spent huge sums in recent years, it has been done with the idea of building for the long-term rather than merely a quick fix.
"When I arrived here the owners told me they wanted to go in the Champions League and fight for the title in two or three years," he said.
"After one year we finished third with Chelsea and won the FA Cup.
"In the second we have fought for the title until now.
"All the time, people say we have spent money. But it is only like the other teams. In the last seven or eight years, they have spent £400-£500million as well.
"We didn't buy Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta.
"If we bought Messi, we should win. We would have a player who scored two goals in every game.
"But we bought young players who need to improve together."
In any case, Mancini would view a second place finish as a step forward, even if it is less than it seemed likely they would achieve for so long.
"We should be proud of the job we have done until this moment," he said.
"It is our best season since 1968, when Manchester City won the championship.
"We have a serious owner and serious chairman. They understand this. People who are very serious do not think if we lose two or three games they want to change everything.
"And if we had a bad season, what about the teams who are 10 or 15 points behind?"