Boss Roberto Mancini will not be sacked if Manchester City lose Monday's Premier League derby at Old Trafford, says Steve Bates, of The People.
But Bates believes that defeat to Manchester United will inevitably lead to further speculation about Mancini's long-term future at the club, even though he did lead City to the title only last season.
United go into the Monday Night Football clash having all but won the league after establishing a 15-point lead at the top of the table over the defending champions.
And Bates told the Sunday Supplement that it is by no means certain that Mancini will be in charge at the Etihad Stadium for City's next campaign.
"I don't think Mancini will be sacked on Tuesday if they lose on Monday," said Bates. "I think City are looking at the overall picture of where Mancini is.
"I think the jury is still out on whether he will or won't be there next season. He'll be quite confident that he'll still be there because he signed a five-year contract last summer.
"But I think City have underperformed this season for a team that won the title last season playing such great football.
"I know they only won it on goal difference on the last day of the season but they were still the best team - there's no doubt about that. They played some great football.
"They haven't hit the same heights this season - it's as simple as that. Coupled with a poor Champions League performance, going out at the Group stage for the second year running, that has put the pressure on Mancini.
"He had two themes to his press conference on Friday - he doesn't think that Manchester United are 15 points better than Manchester City and his second point was that the damage to City's season was done last summer, when United bought Robin van Persie and City bought Scott Sinclair, Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell.
"He believes that was the moment that City's started to unravel. I know that Van Persie has not scored for a few games but he definitely made the difference for Manchester United in the first two-thirds of the season.
"Mancini's future will be in debate in Monday's papers when they preview the game."
City thumped United 6-1 when the sides met at Old Trafford last season and Mancini has stressed that he is keen for his side to make another statement on Monday even if the title race is all but over.
However Bates said that until City come out and clarify whether Mancini's future at the club is secure, the Italian will always be looking over his shoulder.
"There is no official line from the club," said Bates. "[Chief executive Ferran] Soriano and Txiki] Begiristain are kept well away from the press. I think a lot of the guys have tried to see if they can get sat down with them but it has not happened.
"I think they are going to want to put their own stamp on that football club and, let's face it, Mancini wasn't their choice of manager. If you are manager you are always going to have a slight doubt in your mind as to whether you are going to survive when key new personnel come into the club.
"I'm sure that Mancini is thinking that with all of this speculation that there is no smoke without fire."
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