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Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has finally admitted that his team's defence of their Premier League title is over.
City's 2-0 defeat at Everton in the last game before the international break left neighbours and rivals Manchester United 15 points ahead at the top of the table with nine matches left to play.
Although United must still play City at Old Trafford on April 8, Alex Ferguson's team need only 13 points from their remaining matches to clinch a 20th English league title.
Mancini famously wrote off his side's chances towards the end of last season, before a goal in the last seconds of the final game against Queens Park Rangers by Sergio Aguero snatched the title from United's grasp.
But this time he is adamant: "It is definite this time. It is over. We are disappointed that we can't win the title but United have been better than us."
However, Mancini insisted that there will be no let-up from his players, with London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur both in a position to claim the runners-up spot should City take their foot off the pedal.
"It is over but it doesn't change anything because we have to do our best to the end," Mancini said.
"We should try to play well and win all the games, and we also have the FA Cup semi-final (against either United or Chelsea).
"We have Chelsea four points behind and Tottenham five points behind. For this reason it is important that we have to keep working hard and well.
"We know that in football it is difficult to win the title for the second year. But we still have the FA Cup and can get second position."
Mancini, whose side begin the last leg of a frustrating season against Newcastle United at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, gave no interviews after the defeat by Everton that ended the slim hopes of a recovery in the title race.
He admitted: "I didn't want to say any bad things. I was disappointed, I was really upset.
"In the end we shot 22 times at goal and did not score. We have that as a problem. This is the problem we have had this year - we don't score enough goals."
But the manager is sure that his disappointed players will have the mentality and attitude to finish the campaign with their heads held high.
He said: "When you are a top team with good players, you should be very strong whether you win or lose.
"When you can't win a title, you have another situation that you can improve. It's very important that we do our best for the next nine games."
Mancini and midfielder Yaya Toure were both linked with moves away from the club during the international break.
Toure's agent suggested his client will leave at the end of the season, while Monaco were said to be monitoring Mancini's situation at City.
However, the Italian said: "Yaya is staying here a long time. He is one of the best players in the world and he will be staying for three, four, five years, I don't know.
"Monaco is one of the best teams in France. They are in second position (in the second division) and have a good manager. But I'm staying here for a long time, like Yaya."
Mancini also expressed annoyance with Belgium manager Marc Wilmots after he selected City captain Vincent Kompany for international duty.
Kompany has not played for City since injuring his calf in an FA Cup game at Stoke City on January 26, but he played the entire 90 minutes in Belgium's World Cup qualifier against Macedonia on Tuesday.
"He didn't play for us for 60 days and then he went to play for the Belgium team," Mancini said.
"I did not agree with this. I think sometimes some managers of national teams should understand the situation.
"This player plays for the club and the club, every month, pay his salary.
"I don't know if he is OK or not. One week before the international break he was not fit to play for us."