Roberto Mancini insists he will be proud of his Manchester City players even if they end up finishing behind Manchester United in the Premier League title race.
The Etihad Stadium outfit were in pole position to secure the title before an untimely slump and the Red Devils' determined charge saw Sir Alex Ferguson's men take over at the summit.
United can move eight points clear with victory over QPR at home on Sunday, with Mancini admitting that if his side subsequently lose at Arsenal later the same day, the race will effectively be over with six games to play.
But the Italian claims there are many positives to take from a season which could end without any silverware despite the vast sums lavished on his star-studded squad.
Mancini said: "I can say that I am proud of what the players have done in this championship.
"We were on the top for a long time, we have fought with Manchester United until now and I think we have improved as a team in the Premier League.
"We also got 10 points in the Champions League which is normally enough to qualify.
"Maybe we made some mistakes in the Europa League, but I think we have improved a lot as a team."
City have struggled to hit the highs of earlier in the season in recent weeks, with costly defeats at Everton and Swansea, plus draws with Stoke and Sunderland, but Mancini believes his squad will emerge stronger from their tough times.
He added: "After seven months it is natural that some players are tired, but this applies not only to us but other teams. At this moment, it is important to be strong.
"It is easy to stick together when you are on the top for seven months and you are winning virtually every game.
"But when you build a new team you also have to face and overcome some difficult moments and that helps you improve as a team."