Roberto Mancini believes Manchester City have made important strides since last season as they bid to force their way among the Premier League's elite.
The Italian was upbeat despite a drab goalless draw against Manchester United on Wednesday that keeps them in fourth place and three points behind their neighbours. Both sides nullified the threat of the other in a dour derby at Eastlands, which left United keeper Edwin van der Sar critical of City's tactics. "They were clearly playing for a point whereas we wanted to win. They were more defensive than us," van der Sar said.
But manager Mancini defended his side's style. "I prefer one point to zero points last year when we scored goals, but we lost. When you play a derby it is a difficult game," he said. "I would have liked more chances to score but it is a derby. We tried to win, but both sides defended very well. We did not concede any chances and I am pleased with that. You always want to win, but sometimes if you can't win, you must not lose."
The point kept United in second place, but they are now four behind leaders Chelsea. Mancini still believes Carlo Ancelotti's side will retain the title, but says things could change during the tense knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. "If we are still close then we will see. It is very difficult but it's important that we stay near the top," he added.
Carlo Tevez came closest to breaking the deadlock with a 30-yard free-kick that forced van der Sar into a fine save to his left. But Mancini said his inspirational captain was feeling the effects of two games in four days following his absence with a thigh injury. "Carlos Tevez is an important player for us, but we were missing Mario," he said. "Carlos played well. He was up against two strong defenders, but maybe he was tired."
United manager Ferguson was not too concerned by his side's inability to score for the first time in eight games and a sixth draw of the season, five of them on their travels. Joe Hart made comfortable saves from Patrice Evra and Dimitar Berbatov, but was rarely troubled in the City goal. United are now unbeaten in 25 competitive games and Ferguson, whose side visit Aston Villa on Saturday, said: "There were good aspects to our play. We dominated and played some good football.
"City are very powerful and experienced. They are a difficult side to beat on their own ground. That's obvious from the way they set their stall out in the second half, to make sure they weren't going to lose the game. But I think there was maybe too much tension in the build-up to the game for it to be a real spectacle and for it to be as open as people thought it was going to be."