Roberto Mancini has insisted his Manchester City team still have no chance of overtaking their neighbours at the top of the Premier League despite returning to form in spectacular style with a 6-1 win at Norwich City.
The result was a drastic improvement in City's recent away matches as their six-goal haul eclipsed their tally from the previous 10 away games combined but Mancini maintained that Manchester United are still certain to be crowned champions even though Sir Alex Ferguson's team showed their vulnerability by losing at Wigan last Wednesday. "It is impossible for us," Mancini said. "The race is finished."
The Italian denied that this stance was a psychological ploy even though it contradicted the optimism that he expressed a couple of weeks ago when his team were eight points behind United. "I only said that because I was disappointed, I didn't think it. I hope you are right to say we can still win it but I don't think so."
City's triumph at Carrow Road invited an obvious "What if?" question, as three of their goals were scored by Carlos Tevez, who, in addition to that plunder, combined brilliantly with his Argentinian compatriot Sergio Agüero, who also sparkled as he scored twice. It was impossible not to wonder how different City's campaign might have been if that duo had been able to play together more regularly.
Mancini, however, rejected the notion that the seven-month stand-off between Tevez and the club has cost City the title, preferring to refer to other factors, such as Agüero's enforced absence following an allergic reaction to a treatment spray. "The team did well for six months without Tevez and were fighting for the title," the manager said. "Our problem was also that we lost Agüero for two matches for stupid reasons, and [Vincent] Kompany for a month and [Joleon] Lescott for four weeks."
Mancini suggested that he does not think the club could have handled the dispute with Tevez any differently, saying it was the player's lengthy refusal to say sorry for refusing to resume his warm-up in September's Champions League match against Bayern Munich that prevented swifter resolution.
"Nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes but when you make mistakes it is important to apologise. We tried to talk to him. But now all that is in the past, we need to think about the present." And the future: for Mancini added that he believes Tevez will get better before the season concludes. "He's getting better, he has improved a lot his attitude and his strength but I don't think he's 100% yet."
Yet even the prospect of an imminent improvement from the prodigal Argentinian cannot, apparently, persuade Mancini that the title may still be within reach. "But it is still important that we finished the season well," he said.