FA Cup final is a tale of two Cities
Manchester City face Stoke in one of the greatest contests in all of sport, the FA Cup final Saturday, live from Wembley Stadium. (Fox Soccer, 11 am EDT). City enter as the heavily favored side but are catching a Stoke team on the rise, after big wins over Arsenal and a blowout win over Bolton in the semifinals.
We sat down with the Fox Soccer crew to break down the game and give you their thoughts on what to watch out for in what is one of world soccer’s most storied tournaments.
Q. First off guys, maybe some initial thoughts on the game and what we can expect?
WARREN: I’m excited about it. Whether it’s the romance, or the pressure that City is under, I think it’s a very exciting game and I’m looking forward to it. I have a personal interest as well, as I know Tony Pulis, and I’m certain that Stoke will have a go at this one. They will make this a physical game, and despite the fact that they are underdogs, I do not think they will sit back and absorb. They’re going to go at City.
CHRISTIAN: It’s nice to see someone outside then Big Four taking up both slots in the finals. Stoke is feeling very confident coming off their performance against Arsenal, but I also think that their game against Bolton in the semifinals was superb. City also have regained confidence after losing at Everton, by securing a Champions League berth against Spurs on Tuesday. City are the favorites. But it’s the FA Cup and anything can happen.
KEITH: I think it will be a decent game. City have all the pressure on them to deliver, and Stoke - who have arguably had the FA Cup run of the year, getting there against all odds - have to be feeling comfortable. Anyone can win on any given day, so I expect it could be a great game.
Q. Who should we pay attention to from City in this one?
KEITH: Have to go with David Silva and the way he is playing right now. He’s proved he’s one of the most skillful players in the league and moreover, he’s very unselfish. We saw a couple of times the other day against Everton and Spurs that he had chances to score but instead always looks to find his teammates and get them involved. He’s always creating chances for City and he’s very difficult to contain.
CHRISTIAN: For City it’s their attacking movement with players like Silva, Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez and possibly Mario Balotelli. I think Tevez will play, given that he ran out against Spurs for the last ten minutes. Silva is very important to them, he gives them good movement and creativity and I think that’s going to be hard for Stoke to handle. However, City has demonstrated a lack of conviction in front of goal, so they will need to be sharper. City also held their defensive shape well and I think Stoke will find them hard to break down.
WARREN: Yeah, Tevez, and Silva, obviously. They are going to have a lot of space to play their game, and that helps them. I’ve played at Wembley. It’s a big pitch and that gives you a lot of time to get on the ball. I think also they will be up for the occasion, as every player is.
Q. Stoke isn’t getting a lot of love, but that’s a mistake, isn’t it? They have some folks we have to pay attention to.
CHRISTIAN: I think so. City have shown that they are vulnerable to a direct, aerial approach as we saw against Everton. Rory Delap's long throw and set pieces will be vital with their big strong players, like Kenwyne Jones. I think for them, Matthew Etherington is a key man, and if he’s able to recover from his hamstring injury, that’s huge for them. But you know what you’re getting with Stoke. They will be direct, very organized, and reliant on set pieces for goals. One thing they cannot do is concede a goal early - they have to ride out that first fifteen minutes.
KEITH: I think with Stoke, it comes down to two men, actually: Pennant and Etherington if he’s fit. We all talk about Stoke as a set-piece team but the fact is that 75% of their goals against top teams have come from open play and it’s because of the width those two players give them. Both men are among the better crossers in the league - and I’d say they may be one of the best wide pairs - and when they get out there, Stoke knows to get men in the box, and that gives them a very good chance of converting.
WARREN: Keep an eye also on Jon Walters. I think he’s a young man who has really embraced what Stoke are all about. He’s big, tenacious and has ability as well. I think Jones is a key as well - he’s a real handful, and I think we saw that last weekend. Those two shine and they are what this team is all about. They are big and physical, yes, but they can play as well. Stoke are also peaking at just the right time, so this could be their time.
Q. Prediction time, guys: Who’s winning this one?
WARREN: I think City wins. In these games, the quality comes through. I also think that with all their fans and what the club has been through, this is their moment - maybe their destiny if you will. It’s been 35 years and the FA Cup is so romantic, and City’s story is romantic as well. They were in the second division and then they get taken over, and not just by any owner, but a billionaire, it’s just a great rags to riches story. I think if they win, it will be a sign of things to come as well. They will be able to compete with anyone.
KEITH: I think this one will be very tight, but I have the feeling this is City’s time. They’ve shown a willingness to grind out a result, and then when they get a one-goal lead, to be very strong defensively. Now, they did show some weaknesses against Everton, but I think Mancini will address those. I think this one could go extra time, but City will scrape it out.
CHRISTIAN: I’m going to keep it short and simple: I’m going to go with City 2-1.