Manchester City full of regret despite win over United in derby
When the euphoria subsides, pangs of regret will remain for Manchester City.
The gloating began in earnest Tuesday in English football's capital city after City gave a performance of champions in a 2-1 win at Manchester United, sealed by Sergio Aguero's late wonder-goal.
However, United needs only to point at the Premier League table as a response to its rival's taunts.
The inescapable fact is that City is 12 points behind United with seven games to go. It's still a matter of when, not if, United clinches a 20th league title.
"We know we can win the title next season but this year we made some mistakes,'' City manager Roberto Mancini said. "It's unfortunate, we can do nothing.''
What City can do is give United regular reminders in the coming weeks that the Premier League's latest force is not going away, and the display at Old Trafford can be seen as a statement of intent for next season.
Mancini has rarely been able to select a full-strength team this season, with key players Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Aguero missing for a variety of reasons. Save for Aguero, who started on the bench as he looks to recover his fitness after a recent injury, they were all there on Monday and it resulted in a dominant display at a ground where United has only lost once in the league this season - back in September to Tottenham.
United manager Alex Ferguson said in his program notes the match was a "trial of strength'' for City - and the visitors responded to the challenge.
"This group of players is no flash in the pan,'' City assistant coach David Platt said. "I think United will get over the line with the points they have got, but we aren't going away, and that performance was not surprising.''
Man for man, there is no better team in England than City but a lack of consistency has been its major flaw.
While United has racked up a record amount of victories through guts and determination as much as anything else, City has had too many off-days this campaign, with performances in the recent defeats at Southampton and Everton unrecognizable from the showing at Old Trafford.
Only experience at regularly challenging for titles can remedy that.
"We need to continue to play like this for next season,'' said Mancini, whose future will be discussed by City's hierarchy this summer judging by reports in the British media on Monday. "We have two or three months where we can work well, where we can improve our team. I think we showed here we can't be 15 points behind.''
It is a crucial summer for Mancini - if he stays in his job, that is. In the last offseason, he failed to sign his major targets, which certainly included Robin van Persie and was also widely reported to include Daniele De Rossi from Roma, Edin Hazard from Lille and Daniel Agger from Liverpool. Scott Sinclair from Swansea and Jack Rodwell from Everton ended up being Mancini's top acquisitions, both of whom have flopped.
He can't miss out again this summer. An influential center back is needed to partner or provide back-up to Kompany while the recruitment of a fast winger could be important to give City a `Plan B.' Replacing Mario Balotelli to give the squad a fourth striker option is also important.
If Mancini gets his recruitment right, United manager Alex Ferguson will know his team has a fight on its hands to keep hold of the Premier League title.
For the moment, United remains in prime position, even though it may end up limping to the finish line.
"If you look at the history of our club, we have always made it difficult for ourselves and put our supporters through it, hanging on to the edge of their seats every year,'' Ferguson said. "We have a 12-point lead and the plus point is that there are only seven games now.
"You whittle them off and we have Stoke on Sunday and we will have a go. We have to kick on now.''