Thursday, 14 April 2011

We’ve seen the worst, now let’s hope for the best

And so we arrive at the biggest weekend of our season so far - an FA Cup Semi Final against the old enemy. Some might even say this is the biggest game in City’s recent Arab-centric history. Of course, in true City fashion we prepared for this test in the worst possible way.

Despair at Anfield

What happened? We can talk about line ups and formations – and they do play their part of course – but I can’t understand the abject performance of the 11 players on the pitch. Absolutely unbelievable in a game of such magnitude. Significant for the ‘Mancini out’ people – I think this is the first time under Mancini’s leadership that I’ve seen us completely unable to live with the opposing team. The positive is that we don’t do this very often. The negative that now Spurs are within three points of us with a game in hand. Not what we want at this stage of the season.

We were weak defensively, particularly in full back positions. We were second best in midfield and we were blunt up front. Adam Johnson provided us with little outlet. Edin Dzeko’s touch looks to have deserted him. In fairness we got away with 3-0. It could have been a hammering. We were overrun.

We shouldn’t be rotating selection on games like this, and for this Mancini must take the blame. At the very most perhaps I would’ve rested Silva, but for me De Jong was vital to give us that extra cover. Mancini admitted he made mistakes after the game – uncharacteristically unsavvy of him to do so I think as this just heaps more pressure on him keeping his job. Perhaps he was trying to take the pressure off the players, who knows.

Saturday, 5.15pm

Just as this Saturday represents a massive chance for Mancini to redeem himself, it is also an opportunity for him to fall further. Defeat to United could well hinder our push for forth, but victory…well, that could change things significantly. It’s a fine line, and Mancini could well live or die on these next few days.

The injury to Carlos Tevez is a severe blow, there is no point in masking it. His loss means more to us than United losing Wayne Rooney to suspension, no doubt about it. Micah Richards seems to have made an unlikely return – if he plays it will be a boost for us defensively, allowing us to switch Zabaleta to left back and shore up our suspect full back positions. Due to United’s considerable threat from wide positions we need to be watertight at full back – and show a bit of footballing savvy. Richards and Zabaleta are our best bets here.

Up front though, the worry remains that without Tevez we will struggle. Mario Balotelli has yet to put in a performance worthy of his own boasting mouth. To start with the enigmatic Italian would be a gamble in a game of such magnitude, but then again, at the moment Dzeko doesn’t foster confidence. The unpredictability of Balotelli could be a factor here. He is somewhat of an unknown quantity against Ferguson’s men, and he is capable of producing the bit of magic that we need. The question is whether the lad can keep his head in such a super charged game. I want to believe in him but he gives us little to go on.

‘Changing history’

Mancini has talked about the opportunity to change the club’s history through arriving at the final of a major cup competition. Of course he’s right, but in this semi we also have the opportunity to change our recent history – and here I’m talking about our record against United since the Arabs took over. Strangely we’ve yet to defeat our rivals since we started signing top quality players. I’m sure there’s a typical city angle on that somewhere. Bring back Shaun Goater and Benjani.

I’ve always thought that the winners of the FA Cup this year would have to defeat United, and now that task has fallen to us. Lose - and the mental block will go on. But there’s always two ways of looking at it. Win – and we claim the scalp of our greatest rivals at Wembley. This is a massive opportunity. They don’t come much bigger than this.

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