FA Cup Final preview: Manchester City v Stoke City
Thirty years after our last FA Cup Final, Roberto Mancini has guided us back to Wembley to take on Stoke for that most elusive of items – silverware. The excitement amongst City fans is at it’s greatest for a generation.
After securing a top four place with Tuesday’s win over Tottenham, all our energy and focus can safely be channelled to defeating Stoke. It won’t be easy.
In three attempts Mancini has yet to defeat Stoke away from Eastlands and Tony Pulis’ side are in terriffic form. Pulis himself won’t be short of motivation after losing the legendary 1999 play-off final to City at Wembley.
Good news for City comes in the form of returning players. Having Micah Richards come through 90 minutes against Tottenham is a huge boost. Micah adds valuable aerial prowess to the back four and allows Zabaleta to switch to left-back, where he can concentrate on nullifying the in-form Jermaine Pennant.
Mancini is giving little away over Tevez, but this could be mind games. The captain has been doing well in training, and neither Dzeko or Balotelli have offered anything like his talismanic presence.
The key for City is likely to be dominating possession and not allowing Stoke to have too many set pieces. If our defence gets pushed deep, as it did at times against Everton and Spurs, then we will be in trouble.
Tevez drops deep and augments our midfield, ensuring we should always have a man free to play the ball to. It doesn’t create a host of chances, but keeping our passing game going will be crucial.
The big spaces of Wembley should suit the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure. The level of involvement of Silva can be seen as a barometer of our success at any given moment.
The return to fitness of Gareth Barry is likely to mean either Milner or Johnson dropping to the bench. Barry has greater positional discipline than Milner, but lacks the graft and Milner often attempts to be more progressive with his passing.
Adam Johnson has failed to recapture his best form since returning from injury and may find himself on the bench. Likewise Dzeko, who hasn’t taken his chance in the last couple of games.
It will be interesting to see if Mancini returns to Balotelli as a starter. If Tevez plays then Mario could occupy the other flank to Silva. His pace and movement should suit the spaces of Wembley. The worry would be him drifting out of the game or retalliating to the physical challenges Stoke are likely to put in.
For Stoke, Etherington and Huth appear to be further from full fitness than the likes of Tevez, and their absence could swing the game in our favour. Etherington and Pennant together would allow Stoke to stretch our defence on the flanks and generate the supply line to Kenwyne Jones. The height and grappling style of Huth at set pieces would also be a major concern.
Much has been made of City conceding two headed goals at Everton, while our zonal marking has never been popular with pundits. The truth is we are a lot better at defending the high ball than we used to be.
The concentration is generally good, and having Lescott in place of Kolo Toure is a blessing for this type of fixture. If Mancini is to spring a selection surprise, it could be the inclusion of Vieira who would add experience and additional height to the side.
Even if he doesn’t start, Vieira is likely to make an appearance in the second half, particularly if we’re looking to close the game out. This serial trophy winner is unlikely to want to miss out on probably his last opportunity of major silverware.
“If someone had said two or three years ago that City would become one of the top teams in the world, no one would have believed it.
“We have done a piece of history already by getting into the Champions League. But it is time City won a trophy.
“I think the fans are happy. But we want to win this trophy for them. We will do everything for them.”
While qualifying for the Champions League was the main target this season, Mancini has made no secret of the fact he wanted to win a cup as well. The Coppa Italia was his most frequently won trophy in Italy and it’s English equivalent would be a fitting first piece of silverware with City.
Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Richards – Kompany – Lescott – Zabaleta
de Jong – Milner
Silva – Y Toure – Balotelli
Prediction: 3-1 to Man City.