City can shade battle of the blues in FA Cup semi-final

Bill Esdaile
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FOR both Roberto Mancini and Rafael Benitez, the FA Cup could represent a last chance of redemption in what has been a largely disappointing campaign so far for their respective clubs.

Mancini might have seen his charges inflict only a second home defeat on Manchester United on Monday night but the gap at the Premier League summit is still 12 points. United have a relatively straightforward opportunity to extend that back to 15 points tomorrow at struggling Stoke, so the chances of Manchester City retaining their title still look highly unlikely.

Benitez was never a popular appointment at Chelsea and although results have improved, it’s very unlikely we’ll see the Spaniard at Stamford Bridge next term.

Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley is therefore a massive game for both clubs. If City fail to win this competition, it could spell the end of Mancini’s reign at the Etihad, while there’s nothing more Benitez would love than to sign off with an FA Cup triumph.

Chelsea beat a below-par United side in the last round but have won none and lost three of the last four encounters against City. The Blues also haven’t netted in both league meetings this season and the 7/5 with Coral on the City win looks a good bet.

Despite an indifferent season, the Citizens still have the best defensive record in the league and have yet to concede in the FA Cup. Selling total goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index looks the call and if, as expected, it’s a tight affair, you could do worse than take the 15/2 with Coral on a 1-0 City win.

That derby defeat to City means United need 10 points from their last seven matches to secure a 20th title.

The Red Devils can tick three of those off when they travel to the Britannia Stadium on Sunday. Stoke have been in appalling form since the turn of the year and have found themselves sliding into the midst of a tense relegation battle.

Tony Pulis’s men have taken just one point from six league outings and are no longer the club that everyone fears travelling to. The Potters have never been free-scoring and when their high defensive standards drop it is easy to see why they struggle.

United have won 11 of their past 14 league fixtures on the road and the last three to nil. Last season’s title collapse will be fresh in Sir Alex Ferguson’s mind and there’s no way he will tolerate back-to-back defeats at this stage of the season. Coral’s 8/13 is a great price on the visitors landing a ninth win over Stoke in 10 meetings.

If there was ever a game for Paulo Di Canio to announce himself to the Premier League, the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday is it. Sunderland ran Chelsea close in his first assignment and after a full week with his players, the Black Cats can beat their bitter rivals.

Newcastle needed a 90th minute winner against notoriously poor travellers Fulham last time out and had lost their previous three games. They also had a tough game against Benfica last night in the Europa League and with a stretched squad they might still be feeling the effects.

Di Canio will thrive in the electric atmosphere inside St James’ Park and can guide his team to three precious points. Take the 3/1 Coral are offering.