Roberto Mancini vs. Alex Ferguson

By: timbersfan , 11:33 PM GMT on May 11, 2012

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Forty-four years of hurt will come to an end for Manchester City on Sunday. City needs simply to down lowly QPR at home to become a noisier neighbor in Manchester and win the Premier League, and the odds of the road-averse Londoners' spoiling the party on the final day are minimal. Mario Balotelli has a greater chance of trading in his shiny black Range Rover for a learner bike.

Former Manchester United keeper Mark Bosnich said this week that City manager Roberto Mancini had done the almost-unthinkable -- beating his United counterpart Alex Ferguson at mind games -- which contributed to City's late charge and United's blip. For so long Fergie has been the master, forcing Kevin Keegan to rant on television and Rafael Benitez to reach into his pocket looking like a sad tattletale.

Indeed, by constantly minimizing City's chances down the stretch and taking away the focus from his side's performances on the pitch, Mancini took the pressure off his players.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book and something that Jose Mourinho -- who is a little more Special than Mancini -- does so well.

Before a crunch clash with Arsenal in April, Mancini said a loss to the Gunners would end the Citizens' title hopes. They did lose, and United held an eight-point advantage.

When City reduced the deficit to five points after thrashing West Bromwich Albion and United lost at rejuvenated Wigan, Mancini said: "United is a fantastic team, and I don't think they can lose five points. Now I think it is too late."

Even when the gap shriveled to three as United let a late two-goal lead at home to Everton slip and the Manchester derby at the Etihad stadium beckoned, Mancini, when asked who the favorite was, replied: "United, always. They're top, three points ahead. After the derby they have two easy games."

But in seeking to explain why the Red Devils relinquished such a hefty lead, crediting Mancini for outdoing Fergie mentally is too easy.

United didn't lose the Premier League because of mind games. Fergie's team wasn't as good as in years past. It was only because of City's mini-choke in March that the red side of Manchester overtook City in the first place. Youngsters Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck tailed off, for one reason or another. United has been without its best defender, Nemanja Vidic, for most of the season.

When it appeared that City would blow it, Mancini was widely criticized for his handling of Balotelli. He was too lenient with his fellow Italian, critics said, and others in the dressing room surely didn't like it, leading to divisions. The Carlos Tevez saga had a cumulative effect, detractors continued, and such off-field distractions couldn't happen on a title-winning team. Mancini was reportedly on the verge of losing his job.

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A few weeks later and he's a genius.

Mancini deserves credit for his approach in the Manchester derby. City showed from the start that it sought to win instead of trying to keep the match close and neutralize United in the first hour before going for a winner. Ferguson committed a tactical howler, reintroducing a rusty Park Ji-Sung.

Mancini also made the substitution of the season at Newcastle last week in the City win that realistically sealed the title, taking off Samir Nasri and moving Yaya Toure into a more offensive role in midfield. Toure then scored both goals.

Those were quantifiable, and more telling, moves.

The Champions League spots
The race for third and fourth will offer more drama Sunday than the battle for the top spot. City should beat QPR by at least three goals, and Sunderland won't be a pushover at home against United. Arsenal sits third with 67 points, one more than Tottenham and two more than Newcastle. How will it play out? Here's a guess.

Injury-riddled Arsenal won't win against West Bromwich Albion -- which is having its best season in the Premier League -- playing at home and bidding adieu to England-bound manager Roy Hodgson. A draw.

Tottenham, at home, will overcome Fulham in what could have been Clint Dempsey's farewell in a Fulham shirt, but the American has been ruled out with a groin injury. Spurs are unbeaten against Fulham at White Hart Lane in the past seven league games, going 5-0-2. Newcastle has a tough finale, at Everton. A draw.

So look for Tottenham to finish third, Arsenal fourth and Newcastle fifth. Such a scenario would mean the Gunners would miss out on Europe's top club competition next season if Chelsea beats Bayern Munich in this season's Champions League final.

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