Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini heads into his latest derby against Manchester United with eyes on both the present and future.
Mancini is already planning for the summer and beyond after accepting defeat in the Barclays Premier League title race.
United host City at Old Trafford with a 15-point lead at the top of the table and, despite form most other clubs would envy, City’s title defence has been an underwhelming one.
Mancini has no doubt one of the chief reasons for that was a failure to land any of his prime targets in last summer’s transfer market and he is determined to make sure that does not happen again.
The Italian said: “We want to improve our team, not like last year. Every year if you don’t improve your team it is difficult.”
Speculation over Mancini’s future persists but the former Inter Milan boss himself remains confident in his position.
City still have a chance to win a second FA Cup in three seasons and finish as runners-up which, last season aside, would represent a highest top-flight finish since 1977.
Having gone 35 years without winning a trophy prior to 2011, the overall progress has still been considerable and Mancini maintains the club are still youngsters at such an elite level.
He said: “I have said many times, we are a young team for this. It is only two years we have played for the title.”
City face a crucial week as they look to take care of what unfinished business they do have remaining this term.
Firstly, beating United at Old Trafford would land a psychological blow ahead of next term as well as delaying United’s seemingly inevitable crowning. Then Chelsea must be overcome in next Sunday’s Wembley semi-final to keep hopes of silverware on track.
Mancini said: “We want to get the second place. We know we have another eight games to play. Against United, away against Tottenham, we have the FA Cup semi-final – the next three weeks will be very hard because we play every three days.”
City memorably won 6-1 on their last visit to United’s ground but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have lost just once there in the league this season, and that was back in September.
Midfield inspiration Yaya Toure is also well aware of the importance of the next seven days to the club as he told the club’s website, www.mcfc.co.uk: “It is a really important week for us, and a tough week as well because United are a tough team and then a couple of days after we have Chelsea – an amazing game.
“We will continue to fight for the Premier League. We have to continue to work hard although we know it is going to be difficult.”
Toure, 29, is also crucial to City’s future plans and boosted spirits at the club this week by signing a new four-year contract, the deal ending speculation he could leave in the summer.
Toure said: “I am sure this club is going to be one of the clubs with the most support in Europe. The guys that have come in – Txiki Begiristain (director of football) and Ferran Soriano (chief executive) – they built Barcelona before and signed fantastic players to make Barcelona one of the best clubs in the world. I am sure they will do it again with City and that is why I renewed my contract.”
Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand has no intention of getting distracted by record points hauls or winning the Premier League by the biggest margin. Both records have been mentioned in the last couple of weeks as United pulled 15 points clear of City but as the two sides prepare for Monday’s derby clash at Old Trafford, Ferdinand is intent on remaining fully focused.
“It is just about winning,” he said. “If anything comes after that then great. If you win the league before the end of the season you can set other targets. For me personally we need to get the trophy first, then you can think of all the other stuff that goes on around it.”
Monday represents City’s first cross-town trip since they put six past United in that never-to-be-forgotten demolition derby, yet he insists that mauling is not being used as motivation in the Red Devils camp. And neither is the pain suffered on the final day of the season, when Sergio Aguero’s injury-time strike snatched the trophy away.
“We are not any more hungry because of what happened last season,” said Ferdinand. “This is just the way we are. The mentality of this club, driven by the manager, is that you have to win and you have to be challenging for every single competition you go in for.”
Ferdinand is not prepared to say anything more controversial than a United win would put “a big dent” in City’s own title hopes.
That is a massive understatement as even a Blues win would need to be followed by four more favours from Premier League rivals to open the door. It seems impossible. Yet the mantra from Old Trafford remains the same. “Each game will take its own course,” said Ferdinand. “This one will do the same.
“Everything gets put aside in a derby game. We have to make sure we put pressure on them, make sure they know they have been in a tough game and are disappointed at the end because we have won.”