Two draws, with Mario Balotelli's "emotional" departure sandwiched in between dropped points at QPR and at home to Liverpool, have made for a frustrating seven days for Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini.

Manchester United compounded the setback with two narrow victories versus Southampton and Fulham in what could turn out to be one of the season's defining weeks. A fortnight after David de Gea feebly gifted Tottenham an equaliser to trim United's lead from seven points to five, they have almost doubled the margin since.

Yesteryear, United supporters would be at their most arrogant in their certainty the league was won but City dented that confidence last year. Mancini's team overhauled an eight-point deficit with just six games remaining, let alone the 13 left to contest this season.

roberto mancini

In need of a helping hand: City are now nine points behind United

After Sergio Agüero's brilliant equaliser on Sunday - with the aid of the calamitous Pepe Reina - one United fan tweeted pessimistically: "Have to say City chasing a game remind me of United at their best under Ferguson. Look like they'll score every time they attack." Only this time the Citizens didn't.

United have not been this far ahead at this juncture since the 2000-01 season when they were a mammoth 15 points clear of Arsenal. By the end of the month it was up to 16 after they thrashed their nearest rivals 6-1 at Old Trafford as Dwight Yorke had the game of his life. Asked if the title race was over, Arsène Wenger remarked, "It was before the game." United were officially declared champions on 14 April after Middlesbrough won 3-1 at Highbury.

But even that omen can't reassure many United fans. It is an indication that, despite the nine-point margin, uneasiness still lurks at Old Trafford as supporters reel from what happened on 13 May 2012. City are not Typical City anymore and have a habit of winning games in the dying embers, which Mancini can take comfort from.

sergio aguero

Agüero savours his exceptional finish

"Last year we recovered eight points in six games so I don't know why it can't happen this year," Mancini said after the Liverpool draw. "We have 15 games and they have to play in FA Cup and the Champions League so the season is long - three months - and we are confident."

"It is enough to recover three or four points in three games."

City's Premier League win last year was also greatly significant on a psychological basis for it stripped United of their famed powers of recovery. Ferguson first remarked in 1995 - when United and Blackburn were vying for the title - he hoped for a Devon Loch, only his team succumbed to their own spectacular collapse 17 years later.

Two seasons ago United - who Ferguson invariably says make "hard work for ourselves" - won the title only in the penultimate game of the season. In one of the Premier League's worst terms, Chelsea suffered a two-month malaise between November and January and Arsenal - never true contenders for a league win - were just six points adrift with five games remaining.

sir alex ferguson

Ferguson enjoys the acclaim from United fans at Craven Cottage

That was Mancini's first full season in English football, and he hadn't forgotten Chelsea's late surge when asked about the gap at the weekend.

"Two years ago Chelsea were nine points behind and when they went to play at Old Trafford two games from the end (of the season) they were only two points behind [it was actually three]," the Italian added.

"I don't think this is finished but probably now we have to win all the games but if not then 11 or 12 games."

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Wayne Rooney is congratulated by Ryan Giggs after his winner

Mancini sounded like he was trying to get over a bittersweet break up when questioned on Balotelli's transfer earlier this week. A turbulent love in the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton mould, he will have been heartened by strikers Edin Džeko and Agüero, experiencing inferior campaigns after last season, bagging the goals in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

But for all the £291.75m he has spent his squad still lacks the depth of Ferguson's.

The Scot called upon Javier Hernández to stretch Fulham's defenders at the weekend, which allowed Wayne Rooney the freedom to hone in and do a passable impression of Norman Whiteside's 1985 FA Cup final goal for a pivotal winner. Mancini will need such inspired nous if he is to defeat his adversary again.