Cool Mancini laughed off Fergie's 'desperate' blast at City, insists Platt
21:55 GMT, 25 March 2012
Standing in the chill Staffordshire air on Saturday evening, Gareth Barry was seemingly doing his best not to think too hard about what may or may not happen when Manchester United meet Fulham at Old Trafford.
'We try not to speak too much about them,' said Barry of Manchester City's neighbours and rivals.
Up in the press room at the Britannia Stadium, Barry's manager Roberto Mancini was noticeable by his absence.
Weakness Sir Alex Ferguson attacked Manchester City's recall of Carlos Tevez
'He is likely to get drawn on something if he comes up here,' said his assistant David Platt. As it happened, Platt was actually talking about the performance of referee Howard Webb during City's 1-1 draw at Stoke.
Nevertheless, if Mancini was going to choose one press conference to miss then perhaps this was the one.
After the rather provocative comments of City's club ambassador Patrick Vieira last week, the beginning of British Summer Time has also marked the moment when the fight for Barclays Premier League began in earnest.
Those familiar with United's recent glories and the role played in them by manager Sir Alex Ferguson will have recognised all the classic signs last Friday morning of a great warrior readying himself once again for the final push.
From that point of view, it is perhaps best that Mancini has not responded.
Reacting in his weekly press briefing to Vieira's suggestions that United's recall of the veteran Paul Scholes was a regressive step, Ferguson's questioning of City and their methods was varied and wide-ranging.
Some of it – such as his lampooning of the decision to bring back Carlos Tevez – was blunt. Much more – such as his suggestion that Mancini may not have made the Tevez decision – was merely implied.
On the ball: Ashley Young and Manchester United are preparing to face Fulham
Some of it may not even have been true. After all, do we really believe he didn't watch last Wednesday's game between City and Chelsea on TV
None of that matters, though. What is important and significant is its timing. Ferguson does not say these things for fun or even out of spite. They are not delivered for the sake of the media. They come at moments when he spots weakness; it is his way of trying to widen what he perceives to be small cracks.
On Saturday at Stoke, City dropped more points. Undoubtedly, Ferguson will have been watching.
City have won just three times away in the league since their 6-1 dismantling of their rivals back in October, taking just 12 points from 30. It has been a potentially damaging run, one that will allow United to go three points clear at the top if they win on Monday night.
At City they are doing their best to be sanguine, even if know privately that United's easier run-in – and indeed their better form – now make them favourites.
Platt said: 'It seems it [Ferguson's comments] was a bit tongue in cheek and there was a bit of fun there – I don't know.
'But he just laughed, Robbie just laughed. It's not a problem to him.
'It's not about him and it's not about Sir Alex. It's about the two teams alone and apart.
'Robbie wants to win. He's done it before. As regards the pressure on him, it's not about whether he handles the pressure so much as it's about whether the players go out and get the results.
'He's fine. He's beyond fine, seriously.'
Staying cool: Roberto Mancini is not feeling the pressure, says David Platt
Mancini was unwise not to shake the hand of Stoke manager Tony Pulis on Saturday. It looked churlish. It is understood, though, that he is relaxed about Ferguson's comments.
A chippy character as a player, the Italian has heard – and ignored – much worse. Nevertheless the City manager knows now that he is facing a rival who has his blood up.
'We are in the right place, at the right time and, most importantly, with the right players,' Ferguson said. 'After weeks trailing in second place we got our noses in front and I am sure our players are ready to put the pressure on again.
Wonder goal: Peter Crouch (left) ensured City dropped two points at Stoke
'Our guys have been flogging away and perhaps wondering if they would ever catch up before we hit the finishing line.
'Well, we did and they are capable of going in front again as we battle it out with City.'
Ahead of the game against Martin Jol's team, United have won nine and drawn one of their last ten league games. It is during this run that the look of the Premier League has changed so much.
The goal scored by YaYa Toure at Stoke on Saturday remains significant. It means that City will still clinch the league if they win their remaining games, including the April 30 clash with United at the Etihad Stadium.
United, though, have form on their side. City – as we saw on Saturday – need to find a little more.