Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believes that Manchester United's stronger team spirit could prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the Premier League title this season.
The Italian's side go into the season-defining clash against its city rivals just three points behind in the title race, knowing that victory on Monday would see them go top of the table again, but Mancini remains cautious on his team's chances, instead choosing to draw attention to the Red Devils' mental strength.
"For the last 20 years Manchester United have been winning constantly," he told reporters.
"Even when they are coming from behind in the table, they know deep inside they can come back.
"They have this internal force born from all the success they have had.
"Playing often against United has helped our progress and allowed us to learn. We’ve moved closer to them but they are still better than us.
"They have more experience and that team spirit that we are in the process of building here."
The title race was blown open once again on Sunday when United dramatically drew 4-4 at home to Everton before City secured victory away at Wolves.
But Mancini continued to play down expectations, emphasizing that, no matter what the result of the derby, their rivals have the easier run-in afterwards and that they still remain favorites.
"We didn’t watch United’s match with Everton because we were preparing for our match with Wolves," the Italian insisted.
"I hadn’t asked to be kept informed on what the score was, so I didn’t see Steven Pienaar’s goal that made it 4-4 live. In any case, that goal doesn’t change anything, United still have a big advantage and an easier run-in.
"They will play Swansea and Sunderland — who no longer have anything to lose or to gain — and we are facing Newcastle, who are doing very well, and QPR, who are playing for survival.
"The match against United could end up not deciding anything."
When pressed, though, on whether the club could win the title next season, Mancini was bullish, stressing how far the club have come in a short space of time.
"We can be proud of the work we’ve done," he declaerd. "It’s not 10 years City have been fighting for the title, just two.
"In 2010, we finished fifth and, the following season, we finished third with the same number of points as Chelsea in second.
"We’ve played really well and were top of the league for 28 matches. If we don’t win the title this season, we will win the next one and have a lot of success in the years to come."