MANCHESTER // Bravado tends to trump modesty in the build-up to derby games but, while bragging rights are at stake in Manchester tonight, Roberto Mancini was in no mood to boast.
The Manchester City manager has a quiet confidence that his side have improved but nonetheless tipped Chelsea for the title and described his United counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, as the best manager in the world.
It is unlikely to be a comment echoed at Eastlands tonight, a ground Ferguson has deemed "the temple of doom". City delight in his misfortunes and, with United depleted by injuries and a virus, admits he is "counting heads".
Mancini, however, is all too aware that whichever 11 represent United, they will be imbued with the club's never-say-die spirit.
Last season's four derbies included three injury-minute winners for the men in red and the Italian said: "They are happy to play until the last second. They have a strong mentality."
His warning to United was gently delivered and couched in compliments. "They know now we are a strong team," Mancini added. "The situation has changed. We have respect for United, for Ferguson because he is the top manager in the world, but we understand that we can better them now."
Superior to either, he insists, are the champions. "My opinion is that Chelsea are better than the other teams," he said. "If we can be near Chelsea and United in January, February, we have a chance."
Mancini is without Mario Balotelli (suspended for three games) while Emmanuel Adebayor is a doubt. All of which only exacerbates the focus on Carlos Tevez, the man who crossed Manchester last summer.
The United manager's eventual decision that the Argentine did not provide value for money ties in with the majority of his comments about City, which invariably involve a mention of finances.
As he likes to do, Ferguson mentioned them in the same breath as Sunderland's costly "Bank of England" team who contrived to get relegated half a century ago.
"If clubs have money and want to spend it, they will," he said. "Chelsea did the same. So did Sunderland back in the 1950s.
"It is not an unusual thing. It is a fact of life. The only difference is that City is an untapped well at the moment. But it is difficult to say whether it is inevitable they are going to win the league at some point. Obviously, in many people's eyes, having the money is a lot better than not having it."
Taunting the "noisy neighbours", as Ferguson branded City last season, ranks among his favourite pastimes. "
For the first time in two decades, Ryan Giggs will play no part in the derby. With Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen also injured, it removes three of those who troubled City last season. But a year in Manchester has clearly persuaded Mancini that a premature display of cockiness could backfire when United are involved.
Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc, the France national coach has confirmed his interest in succeeding Ferguson as United manager.
Blanc, who ended his playing days at Old Trafford, said: "Sir Alex is the cornerstone of Manchester United, he personifies the club, he has this passion for the club and it would be an interesting challenge to succeed him."
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