MANCHESTER CITY vs STOKE CITY
Tomorrow – 3.00pm ITV 1
THE Manchester City players and fans were celebrating as if they had won the FA Cup when they defeated arch rivals Manchester United at Wembley last month. They showed a steely determination that day and their agonising 35-year wait for a trophy could be about to come to an end against Stoke tomorrow afternoon.
Roberto Mancini’s men are now assured of a Champions League spot for next season, so the pressure is off to a certain extent. However, there has to be a danger that they could underestimate a Stoke side that is bang in form at the moment and has comfortably beaten Arsenal, Bolton and Wolves in recent weeks.
Tony Pulis has done an incredible job at the Britannia Stadium and after three seasons in the top flight, the Potters look like they are here to stay. They are difficult to break down at the back, with Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross both excellent in the centre of defence. Rory Delap’s bullet throw-ins are a lethal weapon and the speed of Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington, combined with the strength of Kenwyne Jones, means they are no mugs going forward either. The main worry for Stoke is that they have some fitness doubts.
Recent FA Cup final history shows us that these games tend not to be flowing, high scoring games. In the last 16 years, only four finals have produced three or more goals and even champions Chelsea only managed to beat relegated Portsmouth 1-0 last season. There is so much at stake for both teams that defences hold the key and one mistake can prove very costly. Just ask Michael Carrick after his howler gifted City the win in the semi-final.
There is no doubt that City are the most likely winners, but I don’t think they are value at 10/11 with Victor Chandler. Since the turn of the year, they have played 13 games away from Eastlands across all competitions, drawing five, losing six and winning just two. The players will undoubtedly be nervous with expectations high and Mancini isn’t the most gung-ho of managers.
It would be no surprise to see the game go to extra-time and three of the last six finals were level after 90 minutes. The draw is available at 13/5 on Betdaq and I’ll be backing the 1-1 scoreline at 6/1 with William Hill. That has been the result in three of the last four meetings between the sides.
Sporting Index quote goals at 2.4-2.6 and that is a definite sell to me. There have been just five scored in 90 minutes in the last four finals.