Manchester: Manchester City could win Monday's crunch derby against archrivals Manchester United and still miss out on the Premier League title, manager Roberto Mancini said on Saturday.
City can regain top spot on goal difference with two games remaining with a win at the Etihad Stadium.
But Mancini, who looked relaxed and joked with reporters at a packed news conference on Saturday, said City have the more difficult run-in and United will still be favourites to take the title, whatever the result on Monday.
"They have more chance than us because we play the derby on Monday and after we play Newcastle. That will be a very tough game and after QPR," Mancini said. "United will play against Swansea and Sunderland. I think for them it will be two easy games. I think [even] if we win this [derby] game, they are favourites."
Mancini has no injuries and has maverick striker Mario Balotelli in contention again after suspension ahead of the big match. "All the players are available," he said. "I have 48 hours to the game. I have time to decide whether he [Balotelli] plays or not."
Asked if he could trust his fellow Italian for such a high-octane game on Monday, Mancini, with a smile on his face, replied: "I think this game, yes, only this game."
Underlining the intimate nature of the derby, United and City train at complexes next door to each other in Carrington, on the outskirts of Manchester. United, however, are expected to escape the pressure of the derby by taking a short training break to Wales this weekend.
"If they want to stay there until Tuesday, for us that's OK," Mancini joked, adding that his team would prepare at their Carrington base as normal. "We go Monday, if they don't come, we win the game."
Joking aside, Mancini agreed with Ferguson that Monday's match was "the derby game of all derby games," but said the pressure was on United.
"We don't have any pressure because we don't have anything to lose," the City manager said. "For them, I think a draw would be a good result ... but I don't think they have this mentality. Like us, it's difficult for us to play for a draw, we want to win always — also when we play against a better team than us, like in this moment, like against United."
Despite leading the Premier League for most of the season, City looked to have spoiled their title chances with patchy away form, culminating in a loss at Arsenal earlier this month.
That defeat helped United take an eight-point lead in the standings, but the defending champions have stuttered with a 1-0 loss at Wigan and 4-4 draw against Everton to let City back into the race.
"I'm not surprised, because this is football," said Mancini. "Until you finish the championship and every game, anything can happen. Like we lost seven points in four games, this can also happen to the other team."
Mancini acknowledged that while he may be calm, City's supporters are reaching fever pitch as they try to capture a first league title since 1968.
"I didn't see any City supporters," he joked. "They are at home, I think, they are afraid. All the City supporters are at home to prepare for this game on Monday."
Whatever happens, City's status continues to rise thanks to the multi-million-Pound investment from their Abu Dhabi-based owners, and the club's points total at the end of the season will likely be enough to have won the title most years.
"I think we should be proud for our season," Mancini said. "I have a big respect for United because for me they are the best team here and maybe in Europe, with Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have fantastic players and incredible support. I don't know what can happen on Monday."