England’s oldest cup competition comes to a conclusion this weekend in a state of diminishment it hasn’t seen in some time. Manchester City and Stoke City have shown the competition the respect it deserves as the FA and Premier League continue to shun it as a second rate competition.
That masquerades itself in the fact the Premier League has for the first time scheduled fixtures on the same weekend as the showpiece of the FA Cup. In reality, this means that Manchester United can wrap up the title only minutes before City kick off their quest for a first trophy in 35 years. It will undoubtedly take away from the spectacle of a final that could be the best for some years.
Man City hasn’t lost a game where they are the home team in 16 and go into the games as favorites. That tag isn’t as clear-cut as it first seems though. Stoke’s last trip to Wembley saw them doing something that not many clubs can attest to. That was to score five goals on the hallowed turf.
The game may hinge on whether City boss Roberto Mancini decides to risk Carlos Tevez in the game. As the closest thing City has to a real match-winner, you can’t look past the Mancunian side if Tevez is in his often seen scintillating form.
Before the game, you can imagine it now. The statistics will be trotted out as to how much more City has spent than Stoke, the respective wage bills and how none of it will matter come kick off. City’s defensive unit is one of those that are more than adept at coping with Stoke’s aerial bombardment and without that, they will have to resort to playing it on the floor. The wing play of Jermaine Pennant will be pivotal especially if Matthew Etherington fails to return to fitness.
It’s fairly certain that the two sides will serve up something for the neutrals to be pleased with and to see Stoke in Europe next season would be a joy to behold. The very distant possibility of Leo Messi coming up against Ryan Shawcross is surely enough for City to consider letting Stoke win. It’s only the FA Cup after all…