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Manchester City’s date with destiny approaching in FA Cup semi-final

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By Jonathan Swindlehurst

Friday 15 April 2011

The last time Manchester City were at Wembley they were chasing promotion from the then Football League Second Division. In the same season their nearest rivals enjoyed their own Wembley triumph in the FA Cup - the second trophy of a historic treble. This season Manchester United are again chasing the treble, but City’s Wembley appearance not only holds a greater prize for Roberto Mancini’s men now than 12 years ago - it can also put a dent in United’s trophy hunt.

The 1999 encounter saw City come from two behind against Gillingham to take the game to extra-time and then penalties, with City coming out 3-1 on top in the shootout. The game will always be remembered for the inspirational performance of Paul Dickov, the man who grabbed the equaliser in the 95th minute. The Scotsman was the personification of a tireless worker, buzzing around his opponents, never giving them a second on the ball, much in the same manner of Carlos Tevez, City’s talismanic captain.

Tevez’s value to this City side is underlined by his 22 goals in all competitions this season, but in many cases it is simply his presence on the pitch which so inspires City. Of course his work rate is a big factor, but his ability to take the game to his opponents and also link up with the likes of David Silva is where his value really lies. Without him it begs the question of how City will take the game to United.

Often when playing away from home Mancini elects to pack the midfield, starting with one forward and despite this match being played at a neutral venue it is likely that the Italian will set his stall out in much the same vein. If this is the case the one striking berth will go to one of Mario Balotelli or Edin Dzeko - two players who both misfired in Monday’s dismal display against Liverpool. Mancini is staying tight lipped about his decision, stating on Thursday both players have a chance of making the starting XI. Whether the Italian opts for a player yet to score in the Premier League or one who many fans feel cannot be trusted could arguably prove pivotal to the outcome of this tie.

If City do line up with one up front, whoever starts will be required to hold up the ball and bring the likes of Silva into the game. It is for this reason why Dzeko may well get the nod. Involving Silva will be key if City are to give themselves a chance of claiming the FA Cup this season. In the Old Trafford meeting earlier in the season the Spaniard was for many the outstanding performer from either side, and if he had been able to take a great chance early on, the game may have been very different. If City’s performance on Monday lacked the fluidity required to beat United this was as much down to Silva’s starting on the bench as Tevez being forced off the pitch.

For the City players there is no better way to exercise the Anfield demons than with a big performance on the Wembley stage. If this is to materialise they could do well to remember the likes of Dickov before they take to the famous turf.

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