Man United continues treble hunt vs. Man City
Manchester United's attempt to emulate its 1999 treble trophy haul continues Saturday with an FA Cup semifinal against what is arguably the club most determined to stop it - Manchester City.
The FA Cup represents City's last chance this season of breaking its 35-year streak without a trophy, so motivation is huge to improve upon last year's defeat to its local rival at the same stage of the League Cup.
But while United heads to Wembley seven points clear at the top of the Premier League and on a high after reaching the Champions League semifinals, City has won only two of its last six games and has been hit by the loss of star striker Carlos Tevez.
"It is a big problem," said Mancini on Thursday, ruling out Tevez for as long as four weeks because of a hamstring injury. "But we can't take any risks."
The winner will meet Bolton or Stoke in next month's final, with those two sides meeting in the second Wembley semifinal on Sunday.
Despite failing to regularly hit the free-scoring heights of previous seasons, record 11-time FA Cup winner United is a strong favorite to make it to an 18th FA Cup final.
United's only defeat in nine FA Cup semifinals under manager Alex Ferguson came in a penalty shootout against Everton two years ago, a record that defender Rio Ferdinand attributed to a strong team spirit.
"You don't see anyone come off the pitch shaking their head, being disgruntled, or sitting on the bench in a sulk at this club," Ferdinand said. "It won't happen here because everyone is delighted to play for this club and they want to be here. The moment you show a bit of dissent like that, the manager pulls rank, and rightly so."
City goalkeeper Joe Hart said morale was low after Monday's 3-0 defeat at Liverpool left City just three points ahead of fifth-place Tottenham in the Premier League, while midfielder James Milner threw his armband to the floor and angrily shook his head at being substituted in that match.
Mario Balotelli could replace Tevez, who scored 34 goals in two years with United before switching to City, while Ferguson must decide whether to retain the striking partnership of Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney, or reintroduce leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov.
Berbatov has 21 Premier League goals this season, but Rooney struck a spectacular overhead kick to beat City earlier this season and Hernandez has managed 18 goals in his debut season in England.
Bolton reached the last of its seven FA Cup finals in 1958, when it beat a United side ravaged by the Munich air crash 2-0 for a fourth title, but Stoke's FA Cup record is far weaker.
The 148-year-old club, the oldest in the Premier League, has made it to three previous semifinals and lost all of them.
"Getting to Wembley this time won't mean anything unless we make it through to the final itself," midfielder Rory Delap said. "It's a great day out for the supporters, and they thoroughly deserve it, but from our point of view it's just another game."
Bolton expects about 27,000 of its supporters to be at Wembley on Sunday, when the game will be competing for attention with Arsenal's Premier League match against Liverpool.
Second-place Arsenal needs victory to keep up the pressure on United, but Liverpool is in form after its big win over City and hopeful of a first ever win at Emirates Stadium.
"We need to work hard to close them down and make sure that we don't give them space or time on the ball," Liverpool striker Andy Carroll said. "There's no reason why Liverpool can't win there and all the lads are confident that we can beat Arsenal."
Also this weekend, it's: Birmingham vs. Sunderland, Blackpool vs. Wigan, Everton vs. Blackburn, West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea, and West Ham vs. Aston Villa.