Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, has declared that he believes Carlos Tevez is "destined to score the most important goal in the history of this club; this is my belief" as his side prepares to meet Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium tonight for the game which could prove pivotal to a shifting in the balance of power in the city and British football.
Mancini said that beating United to the title would be the biggest achievement of his career – "three ifs," he added, qualifying that statement – and also revealed his public air of confidence is back by declaring that clinching the title would brook no argument about whom the elite side in Manchester would be.
"If we beat United to the title it would be the biggest achievement of my career because it is England, it is the best championship in Europe," Mancini said. "And for an Italian manager to win the Premier League would make it better than anything else I have done in the game. If you win the title there can be no debate about who is the No 1 team in Manchester for this year at least – but United have a fantastic history and it is impossible to change that. For us, our targets should be to match the achievements of United, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the future."
The significance of defeat for both managers means that Sir Alex Ferguson may well select Ji-Sung Park in a packed United midfield tonight, with Nigel de Jong under serious consideration for a more defensively organised City.
Mancini agreed that Sir Alex Ferguson had been forced to take City more seriously, having mocked them and the stadium he once called "the Temple of Doom" in the past. "It's normal but not the last two years. Now he takes us more seriously."
Tevez, who has played 99 times for United and 100 for City, somehow seems feted to deliver a parting shot, after a relationship with Manchester which has delivered two titles and a European Cup with United, an FA Cup as City captain and disputes with both of tonight's managers. Mancini, who joked that the problem with restoring Mario Balotelli to the starting line-up after suspension "is that he can get a red card at any moment on the pitch, in the tunnel or even in the dressing room!", does seem likely to stick with Tevez, who has restored balance to the side in three recent victories.
United's injury concerns were eased when Nani, who was forced to cut short training at their South Wales base on Friday after limping out after a heavy challenge to his left ankle, participated fully in Saturday's 90-minute session. Both he and defender Jonny Evans took part in the session, though teeming rain at the Vale hotel and golf complex, near Cardiff, made a further session impossible before they left yesterday morning.
United's Ryan Giggs said his club intended to make a statement in a match which is likely to see Wayne Rooney playing as lone striker. "We're Man United, we're the champions and we'll try and go out there and put a statement out that we deserve to win this league. [The game] is up there [among my biggest.] These are the sort of games which I'm still involved in football for. Apart from cup finals this is as big as you can get."
Mancini said one title was not enough. "It is important that we don't win just one championship," he said. "I want to leave a legacy. I want all the City fans to remember me for winning many trophies because I have worked well here. Even if we don't win the title this year that will not change. Just to be fighting for the title with three games left shows that we have progressed and worked well this season. It has showed that Manchester City will be a top club for many years."