The FA Cup has been hugely important to Manchester City and Roberto Mancini. When City won the cup in 2011, it was the club’s first major trophy since 1976; a victory vital in changing the mentality of the club. In his post-match Wembley interview, David Platt said: “you ask Roberto which of the trophies was the best while he was at Inter and he will say it was the first Italian Cup because that is what gave the dressing room that winning mentality. What nobody can take away from the players is that they have won something”. The following season City won the Premier League title while playing fantastic football, burying years of underachievement and downright embarrassment in the process. City’s FA Cup triumph signalled a huge change in the club’s fortunes.
This season, its importance lies in the fact that it’s City’s only realistic chance of silverware. For a side that won the title and then spent £50m on signing new players in the summer, a trophy would seem the minimum requirement this time out, yet a disastrous Champions League campaign and patchy league form means the FA Cup is arguably Mancini’s only hope of delivering his third trophy in three seasons. Mancini knows full well that a year without a trophy would not go down well with the City board.
Before the fifth round tie with Leeds, former City full-back Danny Mills tried to increase the pressure on Mancini by suggesting he would his lose his job if City were knocked out. Mancini brilliantly refuted Mills’ nonsense in the build up to the game, but the fact remained that this was an important hurdle for City to overcome. They did so in style, winning 4-0 and playing some excellent passing football in the process, with Yaya Toure, Aguero with a brace and Tevez all scoring goals. It was an utterly dominant performance, which has seemingly given Mancini renewed optimism.
After the game, Mancini said:
"In Italy we say a game like this is a brodino - a starter. I hope it can happen that we start to win in the Premier League again. This is possible [being 15 points behind United when Chelsea visit on Sunday], but I think we should always be confident in ourselves, even when we're 12 points behind at this moment. We lost seven points in [our last] three games and this can happen for any team. But now they [United] play a lot of games, at this moment they deserve to stay there because they have been better than us and scored more goals than us."
It’s difficult to see City overhauling United, even if their Champions League campaign continues until May. They have a significant lead, and their brilliant manager is seemingly hellbent on burying the disappointment of last season when City came back from being eight points behind in April to win the league on the final day.
However, Mancini is right to be enthused by this performance, regardless of the opposition. Tevez scored a much needed goal, Yaya Toure contributed something positive for the first time since he left for Africa Cup of Nations duty in early January, and Jack Rodwell, for the first time since his £12m move from Everton, looks fit and ready to be involved.
And after the debacle on the South Coast in City’s last match, this was welcome relief. If Mancini can guide City to another trophy, and close the points gap to a respectable level, he will surely be given another season to try and make City competitive domestically and in Europe, something which has so far eluded him.
The competition that kick-started Mancini’s success at City, now provides him with an opportunity to revive an ailing campaign.