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Roberto Mancini rues missing out on most wanted targets for Manchester City

City approach the Manchester derby 15 points behind league leaders United, but the Italian is convinced it would have been very different had he bought the players he wanted most, such as Robin van Persie, writes Richard Jolly.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini says his side would have defended their Premier League title if only he had managed to sign a number of his transfer targets. Andrew Yates / AFP
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini says his side would have defended their Premier League title if only he had managed to sign a number of his transfer targets. Andrew Yates / AFP

MANCHESTER // Roberto Mancini has insisted that Manchester City would be top of the Premier League and still in the Uefa Champions League if they had managed to sign his top transfer targets last year.

City approach tonight's derby 15 points behind league leaders Manchester United, but with Mancini convinced it would have been very different had they bought the players he wanted most.

And while United, who have won 25 of their 30 league games, have set a record-breaking pace, the City manager believes it has been easier for Sir Alex Ferguson's team because opponents are too afraid of them to play well.

This is City's first visit to Old Trafford since last season's historic 6-1 thrashing of United. The only derby this season, at the Etihad Stadium in December, was decided by an injury-time free kick from Robin van Persie, who Mancini wanted at City.

He had also hoped to sign Roma's Daniele De Rossi, Eden Hazard, who left Lille for Chelsea, and Javi Martinez, then of Athletic Bilbao and now at Bayern Munich.

Had they done so, he believes this season would have been very different.

"Yeah, sure, 100 per cent," he said. "Probably, we would be on the top and could win the second title and probably we would be in the Champions League quarter-finals.

"We had a chance to get three or four players who could improve our team. These players made a difference in their teams this year."

In fact, Mancini believes it is a reason why City have amassed 15 fewer goals than they should have scored at this point in the season. The other factor in the title race, he said, is opponents' approach against United.

"No one plays well against United because they only play with fear," he said. "Every team that plays against United plays very soft, because they think this game is difficult, they can't beat them."

Only four teams have taken points off United this season. Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City have beaten them; they have drawn only twice, against Spurs and Swansea City.

Mancini said he was not accusing other teams of lacking effort, but said the problem is psychological. "I don't think they don't play 100 per cent, but their mentality is poor in that game, he said. "They think they can do nothing, but I don't think that is true. If you play with mentality, in football you can beat every team."

Mancini has dismissed City's chances of another five-goal victory, saying: "The 6-1 is in history. We can talk about this for another 200 years, but it is impossible to do this result another time."

If United are looking for revenge, one of the Mancunians in their ranks has another reason to be particularly motivated.

"I've been brought up on Manchester derbies and they are always special to me, particularly as I was on trial at City when I was younger but didn't get taken on," said Danny Welbeck, the United forward.

He faces competition for places in attack, with Wayne Rooney set to return after a groin injury. Right-back Rafael will also be back, while United hope Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans will be fit. With this year's championship all but sewed up, Ferguson is already thinking about a hat-trick.

The United manager said: "Whether we can go on another run of three titles in a row, who's to say? The material is there, but it's a hard league."