Roberto Mancini has questioned the attitude of his Manchester City players, wondering whether it has been the equal of their Manchester United counterparts as his club prepared to hand over the Premier League title to their cross-town rivals.
City's 3-1 defeat at White Hart Lane by a Tottenham Hotspur team that made a dramatic statement about their Champions League credentials meant that United will secure their 20th league championship with a home win over Aston Villa on Monday night.
Mancini was as bewildered as many others in north London on Sunday afternoon as City failed to build on an early lead and then surrendered a position of comfort in the closing stages. Inspired by Gareth Bale and three highly effective substitutions by André Villas-Boas, Tottenham scored three goals in seven minutes to reignite a top-four dream that appeared to have faded.
As Villas-Boas looked ahead to Tottenham's final five matches, with the decisive one to come at Chelsea, Mancini was left to reflect on his players' desire, which he suggested had to be the problem as there was nothing to choose between them and United in technical terms.
"We don't have a gap [to United]," said Mancini, the City manager. "The last two or three years … every time we have played United, we have played better, also when we have lost the game. We lost in the last minute [earlier in the season]. Last year we beat them easily. The reason there is a gap like today [in the league] … probably there is more attitude, they wanted. They started the season and they wanted to win after last year. There are many reasons why we lose but I repeat, they deserve to win it."
Mancini was asked whether he thought City had handed United the title. "Sometimes we probably did," he replied. "I think the 13- or 15-point gap is not reality for this championship. They are not a better team but they deserve to win this title because we lost a lot of points in games we probably didn't deserve to lose. United won a lot of games in a row with goals and they deserve to win the title.
"The race was finished three or four weeks ago. Will I watch the Villa game? If I am at home, why not? It will mean nothing to us. We wanted to win this championship. What can we do? We can maybe say only congratulations to them. When you win, you deserve to win it. You always need a bit of luck in football. It is like life. But they did not win by luck. They had a better attitude because they lost last year."
Mancini appeared to revisit an old grievance when he spoke of United buying "some new players in the summer and they scored a lot of goals." He had been determined to sign the striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal, only for the Dutchman to join United and deliver 21 league goals so far this season.
"I'm not happy because I like to win the championship," Mancini added. "This was our target. I'm not happy with the season because I want always the maximum. But we have another chance to win the FA Cup and I think the FA Cup is important. And we can be in second position. If that is not good enough, then every manager should be sacked."
Villas-Boas highlighted Clint Dempsey's 75th minute equaliser as the turning point and he said that his players' confidence had been restored. "We still have to reach our objectives for this season to be considered a full success," he said. "Hopefully we are able to achieve it. We are in control because we have the game in hand but it is against Chelsea, and it's a difficult game at Stamford Bridge."