There’s something strangely familiar about Wigan’s visit to the Etihad, reflective of well established recent end-of-season trends.
For the third consecutive season Manchester City will be battling for silverware, whereas the visitors will slip ‘into character’ for their traditional Harry Houdini escapology act at the foot of the Premier League.
Oh yes, and then there’s the small matter of the 2013 FA Cup Final.
It’s a tad quirky that Roberto Martinez brings his relegation worried warriors to face Roberto Mancini’s champions just four days after both sides booked their Wembley slots.
When City triumphed over Stoke City in the 2011 Cup Final, they were playing the beaten finalists within 96 hours as Tony Pulis’ side went to the blue side of Manchester for their annual ‘something-nil’ tonking.
Without doubt the pressure is on Wigan to try and become only the second team to win in the PL at the Etihad in the past two seasons. Likewise, they would love to do something that hasn’t happened in City’s last 46 home league matches…stop Aguero, Tevez and Co from scoring.
Hopefully that’s as likely as Derek Hatton and George Galloway sobbing uncontrollably at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today.
City, having seen the title slip from their grasp on an abject Saturday lunchtime at Everton, are now producing the type of quick, slick, precision play that swept them to their sensational success last season.
Newcastle were neutralised 4-0, Manure mauled 2-1 and Chelsea checked out of the FA Cup 2-1, as City take delicious momentum down the final straight of the season.
Jekyll and Hyde Wigan can – on their day – match any team in the English top flight. They also managed to do what City will probably never do in a month of Sundays – massacre the gargoyle Moyes’ men at Goodison en-route to their date with destiny on 11th May 2013.
It beggars belief that the bookies are offering odds of 1/7 on for City to lift the Cup – yes, of course they’re the favourites, but it wasn’t that long ago that the ‘pie-eaters’ were one of City’s numerous bogey teams.
Wigan won their first two visits to the Etihad and seemed to have the hex on City – as so many others did at the time.
In more recent encounters City have emerged victorious on the last six occasions, without conceding a goal.
It’s a comforting statistic that when City have scored first this season they never lose, accumulating 18 wins and 2 draws in the process. The same principle applies with the ‘God’ that is Sergio Aguero. Throughout his City career, if he scores in a league match, City simply don’t lose – that tally is now up to 23 wins and two draws.
At a time when Bobby Manc will want to keep his men as fit and focused as possible, City welcome back two long-term injury casualities Micah Richards and Jack Rodwell.
It’s a measure of the tenacity of MCFC Player of the Year elect, Pablo Zabaleta, that Micah’s marauding runs down the right flank have been missed, but only marginally.
Neither Rodwell or Richards can hope for a full 90 minutes after such long lay-offs but, nonetheless it gives Mancini a few additional bodies from which to choose. Richards’ re-introduction is especially welcome at a time when rumours abound of a possible summer move to Liverpool or Arsenal.
One can only hope they are ill-founded. Micah is already an immense player, has sky blue blood coursing through his veins and is an integral part of City’s future.
Sadly,Silva is still not fully fit and is needed to take on Tottenham on Sunday, so as a precaution he’ll be sitting this one out. Mancini will inevitably make changes after the energy-sapping win over Chelsea.
It’s conceivable that the likes of Kolarov, Kolo, Lescott, Garcia and Dzeko could be in the starting XI along with Joe Hart, restored to goalkeeping duties.
That said, the disappointment of an early exit from Europe did at least create the luxury of recovery time for the players, so there’s no reason why Bobby Manc cannot keep going with what he perceives to be his best team.
Make no mistake, City still need wins aplenty to consolidate second spot, strive to bring the points deficit against the Trafford troglodytes back to single figures and finish the season on a high, showing Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon Al Murbarak and Ferran Soriano that the team, and the manager, WILL go onto greater achievements next time out.
But if City desire points, Wigan positively crave them.
Locked in a tussle with Stoke, Sunderland, Villa and Norwich for the third relegation berth, the Latics could be forgiven for being somewhat blasé about their situation.
With a perverse sense of self preservation there’s a ‘Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring…’ type of approach and a strong undercurrent of ‘we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again…’
Undefeated in their last three games and with just one loss in their last six away matches, Wigan have every right to feel optimistic – that is until you see that they have just a single win in 15 encounters against top half opposition in the PL this season.
City are also in a rich vein of form having won four of their last five league games, so the stage is set for an intriguing encounter.
If Aguero and Tevez get the nod ahead of Dzeko , the two Argentines could have a flutter to see which one will bag their second hat-trick against City’s North West neighbours. Sergio’s on a sizzlingly hot streak of great form, whereas ‘Duracell’ Tevez show no signs of dropping the intensity of his performances.
At the opposite end, Arouna Kone will be striving to make his own piece of goalscoring history for Wigan as he tries to become the club’s highest scorer in a single season in the top flight. With 10 goals bagged he needs three to surpass Henri Camara’s 12-goal haul from 2005/06.
Yes, tonight is a dress rehearsal for May 11th, but the glory and despair of the FA Cup Final will seem light years away tonight, especially for the visitors if they lose and take a peek into the PL relegation abyss.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – FORZA ROBERTO MANCINI!