FOOTBALL is "a game of mistakes," Johan Cruyff once said - an assessment often quoted by the new Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano, whose management theory on the sport is that if you minimise the number of errors, you optimise the chance of success. "The ball doesn't go in by chance," Soriano is also fond of saying.
This might not feel like a heroic perspective on a sport which Cruyff made beautiful, but it is a valuable one in a season when every club is erring to a greater or lesser degree.
"A lot of comparisons have been made with our form last season," said City's assistant manager David Platt after the 1-1- draw with Everton. "But the amount of goals we were scoring last season was alien. I don't think anyone was going to hit those heights on such a consistent basis."
Roberto Mancini's disinclination to discuss the game with the national daily newspapers reflected the way he has rather fallen out of love with the British media who were garlanding him with praise a year ago. But even as Platt (below) spoke, the Cruyff theory of success was being demonstrated by Manchester United's porous defence at Reading.
The Manchester side which makes the least mistakes will win the league and City don't feel like underdogs heading into next Sunday's derby, even though they're three points behind. Their defence -- to which Matija Nastasic will return but Aleksandr Kolarov will play no part when City pursue a Europa League place on the banks of the Ruhr in Dortmund tomorrow -- looks substantially better than any other in the Premier League.
In the course of a 15-game Premier League unbeaten streak - already one better than last season's opening run - City have conceded only 11 goals: 10 fewer than United. Only Stoke City's concession of 12 is comparable.
Of course, "not bad" is no longer good enough for City fans, some of whom were unintelligent on Saturday by deriding Mancini for substituting Carlos Tevez, rather than Edin Dzeko, whose height was needed against Everton's physical presence.
Should the City manager be needing to preserve what he has against a side who, in monetary terms, have infinitesimally less than him? Probably not. But that's the consequence of having a midfield which can't deliver to the strikers.
David Silva has not been able to turn games to his purpose, as he could when David Moyes feared him so much that he designated Jack Rodwell as the Spaniard's marker at the Etihad last season. "Silva was the best player in the Premier League at that time, by a long way," the Everton manager said on Saturday night. The past tense was appropriate.
There is no ammunition from City's flanks either, which is also part of the story of them scoring fewer goals. Mancini's suggestion that "we are not very strong with our strikers because we need to score more goals," didn't begin to tell the true story.
The City manager needed a fortuitous penalty decision to allow Tevez to cancel out Marouane Fellaini's opener and Moyes' complaint that City are getting too many of those calls carries some merit. The club have been awarded more penalties than any other Premier League side since the start of the 2010-11 season.
Moyes played down the prospects of a top-four finish, in the way that managers do, after Everton's seventh draw in nine games. "I think it will be hard for us over the piece," he said. "It'll be a big thing for us to be there. I think when we play over 90 minutes against someone we've got a good chance. Can we do it over 38 games?"
But there is a balance to a side which has Fellaini and Leon Osman playing to an unprecedented level and with Phil Jagielka's performance on Saturday part of a stellar few months for him which seem to have gone unnoticed.
There were notably more Everton players to talk about than City, though that won't concern those supporters whom Mancini found it hard to please, if his players collect the honours on Sunday, at the stadium where they won 6-1 last season.
Maicon was remembering playing for a triumphant Cruzeiro, the underdogs, against Atletico Mineiro in Brazil's Belo Horizonte derby. "It changed our whole season for the better," he said.
"This is something that is built into derbies - it can give the team a boost of confidence for the rest of the season."
In the coming seven days, the game of fewest mistakes will do.