Manchester: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has paid Roberto Mancini a rare compliment ahead of the crucial derby against Manchester City on Monday. Ferguson, who is famous for playing mind games with his title rivals, said City had reached a new level under Mancini's guidance.
The Italian was appointed City manager in December 2009 and has established the club as a serious title contenders with the help of multi-million-Pound investment by their Abu Dhabi-based owners.
Many believe Mancini's job will come under threat if City fail to win the title after leading the standings for most of the season, but Ferguson said City were moving in the right direction.
"He [Mancini] is second-top of the league at the moment, with the league decider on Monday," Ferguson said. "That's progress, it's a step forward for them. That's the only way you can measure it."
City can move ahead of United on goal difference with two rounds left by winning on Monday.
Ferguson also drew attention to the fact that City's likely points total would probably have been enough to win the league in most years.
"You look at the points total that both teams probably will amass and it's championship form from both teams," he said. "This is the derby game of all derby games. It's our city rivals and it makes everybody step up a notch in terms of anticipation."
The last time United and City fought it out for the title was in 1968 — also the last time City won the league — but this year is extra-special because the derby comes so close to the end of the season.
"It's a shoot-out, isn't it?" Ferguson said. "Going into work next Tuesday morning will be the most important day of their lives for both sets of supporters. People are brought up through their grandfathers, their great-grandfathers and grandmothers to what they are. You can't change a family's traits. It's steeped in the blood of these supporters."
His rival Mancini has claimed United will be favourites to win the title even if his City side win the derby, but Ferguson disagrees.
"I think City probably would win it," Ferguson told the club's website on Sunday. "Yes. I think, with two games left, they'd have a great chance."
After Monday's clash, defending champions United face Swansea City at home before completing their season at Sunderland. City's penultimate game is at Newcastle United, who are chasing a Champions League place, before Roberto Mancini's side meet relegation-threatened Queen Park Rangers at home on the final day of the season on May 13.
United were eight points ahead of City in mid-April but defeat at Wigan Athletic and a 4-4 draw at home to Everton last weekend when they let slip a 4-2 lead have put their cross-town rivals back in the title frame.
Ferguson said he was pondering "two or three options" in team selection to face City, who have won three in a row.
"I just know what we want to do in the game. We've got enough experience and pace in the team, enough good footballers and determination," Ferguson added. "I think we'll be alright in that respect. The game could be decided by anything, I hope it's not by a bad decision, that's for sure."
"There's focus on both teams to make it a good game. It's important as we're representing the city all over the world. [UEFA president] Michel Platini is making an effort to come to the game. It creates a certain occasion and we want to represent ourselves the right way."