When it comes to the War of the Roses and the FA Cup it’s the men on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines with the bragging rights in the 21st century.
Leeds United have twice visited Manchester and on both occasions gone away victorious – once to be expected, the other a massive shock result. It was 13 years ago when high flying Leeds of the then Premiership, beat City from Division One in an entertaining 4th Round 5-2 shootout at Maine Road. That was to be expected.
The roles were reversed ten years later when Leeds, from the second tier of English football, knocked United out in the 3rd Round with a totally unexpected 1-0 win at Old Trafford.
If Neil Warnock’s charges – now lingering mid-table in The Championship – can fatally wound Roberto Mancini’s hopes of a second FA Cup success, it will be an even bigger turn up for the books.
With City lagging lamentably behind their hated Red foe in the Premier League, the FA Cup represents their best hope of continuing the club’s recent run of silverware. Logic says the Premier League champions should be in the quarter final draw on Sunday afternoon, but this wonderful old knockout competition gives not a jot for the form book and what ought to happen.
After last weekend’s dire showing against Southampton, City have a lot to prove, not least that they have an inherent sense of pride, a fighting spirit and, above all, the class to bounce back as a major force in the domestic game.
The knives are out for Mancini, but the scorn being heaped on the proud, passionate Italian is disproportionate and, frankly, out of order. Those who lauded Bobby Manc just nine short months ago, are now wanting to separate his shoulder blades with sharpened instruments, despite City sitting second in the PL, with a more than realistic chance of Wembley glory in May.
It’s worth reminding those who seek to depose Mancini that he is a victim of his own success, rather than the perceived failings of this campaign. Owner Sheik Mansour and Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak’s ‘masterplan’ had earmarked PL glory this season – not last. Mancini delivered ahead of schedule, but in so doing, raised the bar and the anticipated levels of future success.
Yes, it’s disappointing that City need an unlikely 12 point turnaround to maintain their cherished title, but FA Cup success and running United close from hereonin would rank as a credible season’s showing.
The City boss has threatened a shake-up to his starting XI after City played liked a bunch of ‘Wendys’ at St. Mary’s. Four obvious changes would be Tevez – back from ‘compassionate’ leave in Argentina – Nastasic recovered from injury, Milner who should never have been dropped and Pantilimon if Mancini continues playing the giant Romanian in the FA Cup.
Doubtless the media will rage ‘Hart by-passed’ and other malicious nonsense, but City fans know that, despite a few rickets, Joe is still one of the world’s top goalkeepers.
Garcia cannot continue to be played out of position at centre back in the continued absence of Kompany. The Spaniard had been playing with increasing confidence and impact, but against the Saints he didn’t know if he was having a sh*t, shave or a haircut. Either Kolo or Lescott must partner Nastasic.
That said, it’s pointless singling out any individual in the wake of the Southampton debacle – it was a collective effort to self destruct.
It’s Mancini’s job to get 100% application from his team come what may. City have a real shot at their third major trophy in three years and, who knows, the boys in blue could yet give Sir Baconface’s boys a scare.
As for Warnock’s warriors, ‘Mrs Brown’s Boy’ Michael will doubtless be snapping and snarling and not worrying about the tool of his trade – the actual football. No, Brown is one of the most reviled of his profession and doesn’t merit the term ‘footballer’ preferring to kick opponents rather than the ball.
Then we have El Hadji Diouf a man whose spitting image is well, just that, but still capable of punishing opponents. Ex-Norwich striker Steve Morison, is no stranger to the Etihad having scored in the Canaries 5-1 defeat 14 months ago.
Roared on by 6,000 Yorkies, Leeds have nothing to lose and everything to gain. City would be arrogant to the point of stupidity if they under estimate a team that dumped Spurs out in the last round.
The tie offers quick redemption for City’s stumbling heroes to live up to the Club’s ‘Pride In Battle’ motto. A rousing win and dreams of Wembley will act as an interim tonic, before the resumption of PL hostilities.
A Leeds win would be more than a thorn in Mancini’s side, especially as the spectre of Jose Mourinho looms large in the Premier League managerial employment stakes.
For now it remains Forza Mancini.