City faces United in cup semi after reality check
Manchester City may end up ruing the snow that saw the first leg of
its League Cup semifinal against Manchester United postponed by two
weeks until Tuesday.
Before a deep freeze gripped England, City was on a three-game winning streak without conceding, while United was reeling from an FA Cup humiliation against third-tier Leeds.
Now, though, United is back to winning ways in its Premier League title defense and has players returning from injury, while Roberto Mancini has experienced his first loss since taking charge of City a month ago.
The 2-0 defeat at Everton was a reality check for Mancini, who must quickly pick up his squad - including Saturday's substituted substitute Robinho.
"I can't worry about upsetting him (Robinho)," Mancini said. "Sometimes a player is on form and sometimes he is off."
More often that not, the Brazil international has proved ineffective and Mancini will have to decide whether to select the British record signing.
But Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz is now expected to be sidelined for a month. The offseason recruit lasted just eight minutes of his comeback at Everton before being forced off with the same calf injury that caused him to miss three games.
Midfielder Patrick Vieira won't be ready to make his debut for at least a week until he recovers from a calf injury from when he was at Inter Milan before moving to City two weeks ago.
Mancini is looking to end a 34-year trophy drought that started after the League Cup victory in 1976. The last final City reached was in 1981 when Tottenham won the FA Cup. United has competed in 17 finals since then.
"It is time we put that right," City defender Micah Richards said. "I want to be part of a team that creates a bit of history and so do all the other lads here.
"When all is said and done you can have your nice cars and your big house and all the trappings but what you will be remembered for as a footballer once you are retired is what you have won."
Richards is looking to make amends for the slip which allowed striker Michael Owen to grab a winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time in United's 4-3 triumph in the league derby earlier this season.
"I switched off for a few seconds and the ball was in the back of our net," Richards said. "I got a lot of grief for that from all kinds of people but mistakes happen in football and I hold up my hands. This time I want to be on people's lips for the right reasons."
The City squad, though, fears United manager Alex Ferguson could reverse his previous policy of selecting an under-strength team in the League Cup.
"You hear the rumors that he is going to play his strongest team after the FA Cup loss but we will have to see what happens," City midfielder Nigel de Jong said. "It's a semifinal, one of the biggest games for City in a few years, so we have to do our best to reach the final whoever it is we play against."
United manager Alex Ferguson pledged to field "a strongish team" while still giving emerging talent a match action.
"I have got to think about getting a mix in terms of the program we have got and also the fact I have given young players a game in the past," Ferguson said.
Center back Rio Ferdinand could return Tuesday after three months out with a back injury.
"Rio is training quite well now," Ferguson said. "He is a lot closer now but he is not in contention for tomorrow."
Striker Dimitar Berbatov could feature after fears of an injury were eased.
"I thought Dimitar had got a knock on the knee," Ferguson said Monday. "It turned out it was a dead leg. We are having a look at that at the moment. I am hoping he will be all right but we will see what he is like in the morning."
On Wednesday, Aston Villa will host Blackburn looking to protect a 1-0 lead from the first leg at Ewood Park last week.