One of the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derbies in history awaits us this weekend, and while the FA Cup is possibly third on Manchester United´s list of priorities this season it is a different story at Eastlands. The Sky Blues know that victory over their cross-city rivals in Saturday´s Wembley semi-final means they are just one game away from ending a 35-year trophy drought.
It will also need to be done without talisman Carlos Tevez, who tore a hamstring at Liverpool and will be out for three to four weeks. The news is brighter, however, concerning defender Micah Richards, who suffered a similar injury on England Under-21 duty; the 22-year-old returned to training this week and is expected to be named in the squad.
The loss of talisman Tevez will be particularly felt; the Argentinean has scored four goals in his last seven appearances against United and has netted five in his last eight FA Cup starts. In addition, his total of 22 goals in all competitions this term is eight more than that of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko combined. Balotelli has notched 10 goals in 16 starts in a season punctuated by knee injuries, while Dzeko has yet to open his league account despite managing four in the cups. An over-reliance on Tevez is something Roberto Mancini must address and the City boss has already challenged Balotelli to be his side´s hero against the Reds, saying that a goal in such a vital game “would
Nonetheless, United defender Nemanja Vidic believes Tevez´s absence will make no difference. “It is not an advantage for us if Tevez is not fit,” he says. “They still have quality players up front and we never underestimate anyone. Dzeko is a goalscorer who looks to play in the box and get on the end of crosses, whereas Tevez likes to play on the ball and come deep.”
Saturday will be City’s first FA Cup semi-final appearance since 1981 and only their second-ever against Manchester United, the Blues emerging 3-0 victors at Bramhall Lane in 1926 to set up a final against Bolton Wanderers (which they lost 1-0). The clubs have since met on six occasions in the competition, with the Red Devils winning the last four – City´s only other success was a 2-0 triumph at Maine Road back in 1955, when they again reached the final only to be beaten 3-1 by Newcastle United.
Recent statistics do not make particularly good reading either: Sir Alex Ferguson has lost only once in 10 FA Cup semi-finals – a defeat on penalties to Everton in 2009 – and no team has scored two against his team in the FA Cup for over four years. With only two wins from the last seven FA Cup matches against top-flight opponents, and not having won away from Eastlands since Boxing Day, the big question is whether the Blues have the commitment and resolve to overcome their arch-rivals – they certainly have the players.