Manchester City must reduce the 12-point deficit at the top of the Premier League before the upcoming Manchester derby to have any hope of keeping their title, Roberto Mancini said on Friday.
The City manager currently trails Alex Ferguson and Manchester United ahead of City's weekend visit to Everton and the leaders' home game with struggling Reading.
The all-important derby at Old Trafford is looming on Monday, April 8 -- a fixture that looked likely at one stage to decide the outcome of this season's championship race.
But City's collapse at the start of the year, in which a five-point disadvantage quickly grew to a dozen, means that, even with seven fixtures remaining after the derby, Mancini's only hope lies in United dropping points in their next two fixtures.
"We hope that happens," he said. "But United are playing at home against Reading and then play Sunderland.
"We hope maybe we can play the derby nine points, seven points, even 10 points behind. Less than 12 would be better because from the derby to the end of the season, they have three or four difficult games."
Mancini has also added his voice to the support for English football's standing in Europe, despite the disappointment endured by Premier League clubs in the Champions League this season.
The reigning English champions failed to progress beyond the group stage while Arsenal this week became the fourth, and final, team from the country's top flight to exit the tournament before the quarter-finals.
But Mancini will not entertain talk of English football having slipped from the high standards set in recent seasons.
"Don't say English football has gone down," said Mancini. "Last year, Chelsea won the Champions League. English football has three teams in the Europa League quarter-finals. That is football.
"For three or four years, English teams won the Champions League, got to the final, did very well. For one year, maybe, there are teams that are better than the English teams.
"But this is stupid to say English football has gone down. It's impossible to win every year. Like in Italy, we win one year, we're the best teams in the Champions League; we don't win, it's a disaster.
"That's football. If it's the same team winning every year, football is boring. Every year a different team can win."
Mancini also insisted that the current legal problems facing forward Carlos Tevez will have no impact on his form on the field.
Tevez scored a hat-trick in last week's 5-0 FA Cup win over Barnsley, just days after being stopped by police and arrested on suspicion of driving while disqualified.
The Argentina international has since been charged with the offence and driving without insurance but Mancini said he was not concerned.
"If he has made a mistake, it (prosecution) is correct," said Mancini. "Everyone should respect the rules. But I don't think it will be a big problem."
Mancini also confirmed that current injury victims Sergio Aguero (knee) and Vincent Kompany (calf) will be rested until after the upcoming international break to allow them extra time to recover.
The Premier League home game with Newcastle United on March 30 will see the return of Mancini's key forward and defender.