FOX experts: City clear underdogs
The Manchester giants meet Saturday (FOX Soccer, noon EDT) in a pivotal FA Cup semifinal clash at Wembley. United have hopes of a treble, with the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in their sights. In contrast, wealthy City have only this Cup to play for as they are scrambling to cement their place in Europe's top competition next season.
The FOX Soccer crew breaks down all the news and drama around what is sure to be a firecracker of a game.
Q. Let's start off with the news that Carlos Tevez is going to miss the game for City with a hamstring injury that he suffered against Liverpool on Monday. How big is this for City?
WARREN BARTON: I think it's huge. He's single-handedly kept them in the chase for a Champions League slot and in the FA Cup as well, and not having him is a blow. He's just vital, and not only for his goals but for his energy and enthusiasm under pressure. He's a world-class player, and it speaks to his talent that where others have found it difficult to raise their game, he's always been able to. He's a real leader.
NICK WEBSTER: I think if you are a City fan, that injury was one of the moments where your heart was in your mouth. You could see how much he means to the team by what happened after he went off in the game: they missed his leadership, his ability to hold the ball, his creativity and his drive. His replacements haven't done it, either. You look at Mario Balotelli and you think he should be able to light it up, but he's not consistent at all, and Edin Dzeko hasn't hit the high notes since his move from Wolfsburg. I think they have a lot of problems coming into this weekend.
KEITH COSTIGAN: For all the money that City has spent, they shouldn't be a one-player team and yet they seem to be. They look like a side that lacks direction. With Tevez on the field, City can score, but without, they are a very different side. I worry for City in this game.
Q. Let's talk a little about United, who just seem to be peaking at the right time.
WARREN: Yeah, Manchester United look like Manchester United. They know when to peak, and you're seeing Wayne Rooney, Edwin van der Sar, Ryan Giggs and the other guys all coming into form at the right time. I think it's down to Sir Alex, and the fact that everyone is healthy. Giggs has said that everyone is fighting for a spot on the field every day, and that's what you need. But Sir Alex is driving this young team with help from the old heads.
KEITH: United remind me of the Liverpool team of the 1970s or '80s, where it didn't matter how well they played, they just put themselves in a position every game to win trophies and titles. That's where United are right now: they haven't always played that well, they've eked their way through some games, and they are in two semifinals and clear atop the league. They are an unbelievable side and I think they will go down as one of the best ever. They never take their eyes off the prize.
Q. Speaking of the managers, Roberto Mancini seems to be under a lot of pressure.
WARREN: He's under huge pressure. The expectations because of the money that was spent are massive. But I think it's also the style of football that he has the team playing that is giving them problems. I think the owners not only want to be winners, but entertainers as well and right now what City is playing isn't fun to play or to watch.
KEITH: I think he should be under pressure. The manner in which they lost to Liverpool was very worrying. They were well beaten inside the first 25 minutes and there's no excuse for that. There were little things in that game that tipped you off too that signaled that the players seem to be very frustrated with Mancini - you saw how James Milner acted when he came off. Mancini's been there long enough to stamp an impression on the team, but I still don't see one. I don't think he'll be sacked this weekend if City lose, but I think he'll be gone at the end of this season.
WARREN: I think some of that also is because he doesn't know his front line. United can change things around because they have that chemistry, but we've seen at City, and at Chelsea and other clubs as well, that if you change the formation and your front runners all the time, you lose the understanding. I think they have the players and they can win a one-off game, but not week to week. They just don't have the connection.
NICK: Yeah, I'm not blown away by what Mancini's done since he's come to City. They're fourth in the EPL, which isn't good enough for a team of their resources and outlays, and it seems he still has a problem motivating his players. He can't find a consistent lineup, and the results speak for themselves. I think it has to be the manager. Look at how they played Sunderland - they're not mugs, remember they went to Stamford Bridge and beat Chelsea 3-0 - and City swept them away. Then, they come to Anfield, and it's a different lineup and they're awful. I think the players look at this and feel the manager doesn't know what he's doing. There are players who are looking for leadership from him and there's none to be found.
Q. Well, speaking of leadership, City seems to have a real problem with young starlet Mario Balotelli.
NICK: Well, you have to look at his age. He's 20, he's away from Italy and away from his comfort zone, and honestly, if you're not from Manchester I concede that city might make you feel that you're on Mars. I also think there have to be some off the pitch issues we don't know about, because he is so highly strung that it cannot be just due to football. That said, look at his old manager, Jose Mourinho. That's a man everyone agrees is the best man-manager in the game, bar none - he's taken the biggest egos and bent them to his game. And he could not do that with Balotelli. So, I think Mancini's got no chance. The next question is: what do you do with Balotelli? City have spent a lot of money on him, and you have to ask if you cut your losses. Right now, every time Balotelli steps on the pitch, he's explosive - he's collected more cards than he has goals.
WARREN: I think Balotelli's got to change his attitude, frankly. You want young players to be confident, but his attitude borders on the line of arrogance. I've played with young guys who think they are better than they are, and my advice would be to look to a guy like Giggs: he's won everything you can win and still is hungry and humble. Instead, Balotelli looks like he doesn't enjoy playing now and he clearly isn't thriving under the pressure. It's disheartening: his ability isn't a doubt, but his attitude is. With all due respect to him, I'd tell him he's a long way from where and what he thinks he is.
Q. We've talked a lot about the problems for City; are there any bright points?
KEITH: I think David Silva has been superb. He's one of the most creative players in the EPL, and he's a breath of fresh air. I know a lot of English fans like Adam Johnson, who is a different kind of winger, but Silva is a more creative player. He is much more intelligent on the ball and a joy to watch. He's one of the top players to watch this year.
Q. Some have asked if the FA Cup still matters. It's certainly not the Premiership, but Warren, what do you think?
WARREN: I think if you're talking globally, then no. Obviously, I think people around the world look at the Premier League and the Champions League as the big trophies, while knowing that the FA Cup has romance. But speaking as an Englishman, and especially since it's at Wembley this year, I think it still has that tradition and is a major trophy and that's why it's still watched across the UK. And if you're in the semifinals, I know you want to pick up that silverware!
Q. Any predictions as we wrap things up?
WARREN: With the injury to Tevez and the experience they had Monday at Anfield, I cannot expect anything less than a United win. But, it's a one-off, and yes, the underdogs can always come through in a game like this. There is no bigger incentive than to beat their arch-rivals. Will they? I doubt it. It would be a massive upset not, even bigger than it would have been when the draw was made.
NICK: As a neutral fan who has been watching for 40 years, it would be great to see City just once beat United in a game that mattered. That doesn't look like it's going to happen. It's just incredible how United are able to fight so well on all three fronts especially considering that they have not had any consistency in the back, and that's their bread and butter. Ferguson has had to mix and match back there, and they have still gutted out the games, and now they have the momentum completely behind them. You just cannot see anything other than a United win.
KEITH: Manchester United will win. It will be hard fought, but they'll win.