Mancini still hoping against all odds
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini concedes his side's title hopes could be over by Sunday night.
The long-time Barclays Premier League leaders have fallen five points behind rivals Manchester United with just seven games remaining following a series of costly results in March.
City could even be trailing by eight points by the time they kick off in their next match at Arsenal on Sunday (live on Fox Soccer, 10:30am ET) if United beat QPR earlier in the day.
Should that happen, and City then lose to the Gunners, Mancini would accept the race was over.
"If we lose against Arsenal and they beat QPR - yes," said Mancini, when asked if that would be the case.
But the Italian insists he is not thinking that way as he prepares for the crucial trip to the Emirates Stadium.
City, who led the table by two points at the start of last month, have come unstuck in recent weeks after a defeat at Swansea and draws against Stoke and Sunderland.
Mancini said: "I think always positive, I can't think this.
"Against Sunderland we didn't play very well, for me we were so flat in the first half.
"But we shot 25 times on goal, we had 65% ball possession. Sunderland shot three times at goal and scored three goals.
"We did some mistakes defensively but we were unlucky.
"But now we can say nothing, we can't think about Sunderland. We should think positive for the next seven games.
"I think it may be more difficult but it is my opinion that this championship is not finished."
Mancini hopes supporters will keep faith and takes encouragement from the difficulties United have had in securing victories in recent games against Fulham and Blackburn.
He expects his own team to beat United when they meet in their much-hyped derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 30 and believes they can still drop points elsewhere.
He said: "Maybe, in this moment, there is someone that maybe doesn't believe because it is difficult, but we believe always.
"Also we should play a derby. The derby could be three points, and I think in six games they can lose other points."
Some critics have claimed City's title bid has been destabilised by the almost continual headline-commanding activities of controversial striker Mario Balotelli.
The enigmatic Italian has generated an extraordinary amount of news throughout his two seasons at the club for his both on- and off-field antics.
He has been on front and back pages this week but Mancini, who has voiced his own frustration with the 21-year-old often enough, believes much of it is blown out of proportion.
Mancini said: "There are some people who think bad things against other people, like Mario.
"Every time Mario does something, (it) is like a war.
"There are other people on and off the pitch that do worse than Mario and no-one says anything because maybe they play for an important team or are not like Mario."
Despite that, Mancini would prefer it if his former Inter Milan protege could find a way to keep his private life out the news.
Mancini, speaking at a press conference Thursday morning, said: "I would like Mario to play, score and finish the other situation.
"It is not maybe your [media's] fault - it is his fault because if he wants he can play and stay at home. Like this, no people can ask about the other situation."
Mancini was unhappy with Balotelli's performance against Sunderland, despite his two goals in the 3-3 draw.
Mancini claimed he considered substituting him after just five minutes while the striker later got involved in an argument with team-mate Aleksandar Kolarov over who should take a free-kick.
There were also reports of a row with Yaya Toure in the dressing room but they were rubbished by Mancini.
Mancini said: "Yaya Toure - that is totally false.
"What happened with Kolarov on the pitch, that is a situation that can happen in difficult moments.
"It is not good but I can understand this situation can happen.
"After the game it was finished. I am not worried - it is important that after the game everything was okay."
Mancini said he is hopeful that top scorer Sergio Aguero will be fit for Sunday after his foot injury. Defender Joleon Lescott is also back in contention after recovering from a hip problem.