Mancini expects tough Stoke test
After clinching a coveted Champions League place by beating Tottenham on Tuesday, Mancini's men are now favourites to end their 35-year trophy drought at Wembley. But Mancini is not expecting an easy time on Saturday. In their own semi-final destruction of Bolton, and by putting Arsenal to the sword at the Britannia Stadium last weekend, Mancini realises Tony Pulis' outfit are a more complete team than many give them credit for. "Saturday will be harder than United," he said. "Stoke are a strong team and a very difficult team. "If we want to win we need to play very well. We should pay attention in every situation. We cannot concede anything. "To think Stoke are an easy team would be a mistake." Yet, Mancini does not give the impression of being a man under pressure. Having secured a Champions League qualification berth at worst, he has delivered the most important part of Sheikh Mansour's pre-season demand. An end to that 35-year wait for a trophy is one for the fans. Or is it? Mancini has always felt that once City collected one piece of silverware, others would start to follow fairly swiftly. He remains of that opinion, which is why he is attaching such importance to the game. "We have achieved one piece of history by going into the Champions League," he said. "Now it is time we won a title. It is important we start to do this as quickly as we can." Mancini can hardly be counted as a traditionalist. Even though he claims to have always been interested in the FA Cup, asked for a couple of examples, he chooses Chelsea's defeat of Manchester United in 2007 and Portsmouth beating Cardiff a year later, so he cannot really know the depth of feeling for the competition. However, he does recognises it holds a far different place in the English domestic calendar than the Coppa Italia, which he won an impressive six times as a player and on four more occasions as a coach. And he tends to agree with Harry Redknapp that, between them, the authorities have messed up by getting themselves into a situation where Manchester United could be winning the Premier League title minutes before his team takes the field. "I read what Redknapp said about this situation," he said. "It is the first time I have seen this and I will be focused on the game anyway, so it doesn't really affect me. "But I understand the cup is very important and it is not good to play other games on the same day." The problem has been caused by the Champions League final being played at Wembley on May 28 and UEFA demanding no matches should be held at the stadium for two weeks prior to that meeting between Barcelona and Manchester United. Instead of moving all the fixtures back by 24 hours, the Premier League elected to have some on Saturday lunchtime, hence the competing attraction at Ewood Park. The side issue is that if United and City do snare some silverware in the space of a memorable few hours for Manchester, they will also be confirming a derby meeting on August 7 in the Community Shield. By that point, City will doubtless have added more stellar names to their squad, with Mancini accepting the Blues will be buying a grade above where they have most recently been purchasing from. "And Messi and Ronaldo," he laughed, when told he had been linked with Xavi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jack Rodwell. "This year we will play in the Champions League so it will probably be different. "Now, maybe it will be easier to take good players because all the good players want to play in the Champions League."