Friday, 12 February 2010

Stoke preview

People are getting very excited about the race for fourth. We're only behind Liverpool on goal difference, and we have two games in hand. It's a stronger position than I thought we'd be in, given our mixed start to the season and our managerial changeover in December. But I'm still quite a bit more excited about the FA Cup.

On one level this is to do with fear. We only need to win four more games to win the Cup. And yet we've got another fourteen Premier League games left. Now, obviously our Cup games, on average, should be harder than our league games. And we're probably more likely to finish fourth than win the Cup. But having to play out a fourteen game sequence to maintain a league position is so at odds with the traditions of MCFC that I'm not sure I can stomach it.

But there is also the fact that, unlike the majority of City fans, I actually think winning the Cup would be better than finishing fourth. I can see that the prestige boost of Champions League football, allied to the fees and wages we can pay, could see us bring in some seriously world class footballers to Eastlands for 2010/11. And I know that the case of Portsmouth shows that an FA Cup win is no guarantor of long term success. But I still want it: the trip to Wembley (I wasn't at Gillingham), the players holding the trophy, the glory, the memories, the end of that banner. Trips to the Nou Camp would be great, of course, but I don't see how coming fourth in something is in anyway better than winning something else.

Which is a very long way of saying that Saturday's game against Stoke is much more important to me than next Tuesday's. If we win we're one game away from a semi-final at Wembley. (Of course, it's ludicrous that the semis should be at Wembley rather than Villa Park, Old Trafford etc but that's an argument for another day.) And we really should win. Stoke have come to Eastlands twice, and lost 3-0 and 2-0 - the latter occassion on Roberto Mancini's first game as City boss.

It is a shame that the man of the moment - Adam Johnson - won't be playing. But it does mean Mancini has some freedom in his team selection. We have broadly three options. The first, and least likely, is the 4-4-2 diamond that started against Bolton. Without Johnson, Stephen Ireland can return in what is almost his best position. More exciting, though, would be a Mark Hughes-style attacking 4-4-2 with Martin Petrov down the left wing and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. It would open the game out, as it did for the last twenty minutes on Tuesday, although it would require the sacrificing of one of Patrick Vieira, Nigel de Jong or Gareth Barry. Most likely, though, is the retention of all three of them in a 4-3-3. Without Johnson it is a straight choice between Petrov and Wright-Phillips to join Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tévez up front. I think this will be the favoured system, and I think Petrov will be the man to come in.

In defence Kolo Touré's knee injury should see Joleon Lescott return in his place (forming my preferred centre-back partnership), and there's also a possible return for Micah Richards at either right back or centre back.

We should have enough to get past Stoke, so I'm going to predict comfortable progression.

1 comment:

Philip said...

Sorry JPB - while it would obviously be great to win the FA cup, the club's objective is 4th spot, and if I had to choose between the two now I would take 4th spot in a heartbeat. That is the platform we need to become really serious contenders. Winning the FA cup is small beer in comparison.

Happily, though, we don't have to choose between the two - we can go for both.