Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed that Roberto Mancini's mind games will not affect his Manchester United players because they are too experienced as the two managers engaged in a phoney psychological war with five games in the title race remaining.
Manchester City are at Norwich City for Saturday's early kick-off conscious that victory would close the gap to two points as United do not host Aston Villa until 24 hours later. Mancini sought to ease the pressure on his squad with a mock acceptance of a claim by René Meulensteen, United's first-team coach, that City "play for themselves" and are "unbalanced", while admitting this is not the message he gives his players.
Meulensteen said: "At Manchester United everybody is used to the pressure for playing [for] the title. For the first in a long time City can become champions. That's what's breaking them. I've always thought that City wouldn't hold the race. Their squad is out of balance, they've got too many individuals playing for themselves. Against Sunderland [in the 3-3 draw a fortnight ago] you could see that they don't have team spirit."
In response, Mancini said: "I agree. That's the reason we can't win. They have experience, they are a fantastic team and we have nothing. Sometimes it's not about balance. Football is strange. They are perfect and we are the opposite. But I enjoy being with my players, I am proud of them. We make mistakes. We are not on the moon – we are normal."
City host United in the Manchester derby on 30 April and Mancini was asked why he said Ferguson's team would not lose any of their other four games, to put the title back in the balance. "I don't think this. I think they are a perfect team, they have fantastic experience. They are not like us who have players who only think about themselves," he said, again mocking Meulensteen.
Pressed, though, how his players respond when informed that they are egotistical, Mancini admitted: "When I speak with my players I say other things. I can't say to you what I say to my players."