This weekend’s FA Cup Fifth Round probably couldn’t come at a better time for Manchester City and will provide a welcome distraction from what has been a difficult few weeks in the league where only two points have been secured from a possible nine.
Last Saturday’s miserable showing away to Southampton allowed neighbours Manchester United move a step closer to the Premier League title with the gap between the sides now standing at twelve points with twelve games remaining.
A home cup fixture against Championship side Leeds United comes at a good time and a win could alleviate some of the pressure on Roberto Mancini and his players.
While it’s probably fair to say that Leeds United aren’t everybody’s favourite cup of tea, I’ve always had a soft spot for them due to my dad being a lifelong fan. They were also the opposition for my first Premier League game in the flesh when they played out a rather dour 0-0 draw with City at Maine Road in 1995.
Since then, they’ve had their ups and downs from reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 with *that* squad to languishing in the third tier of English football between 2007 and 2010.
Now back in the Championship, the intentions of the club’s new owners are still not 100% clear and with their league form erratic to say the least (four wins, five defeats and a draw in their last ten games), now is probably a very good time to play Leeds.
Having said that, they did manage to see off Tottenham Hotspur in the previous round by two goals to one. That game was played at Elland Road though and Manchester City have only lost once at the Etihad Stadium since December 2010 – the December derby defeat to United.
Leeds’ decision to sell top scorer Luciano Becchio to Norwich City on Transfer Deadline Day was a blow as the Argentine had scored 19 goals in 29 games in all competitions prior to the switch. Welsh international Steve Morison moved in the other direction, while Stephen Warnock and Habib Habibou have also come in to strengthen the squad.
One player who could be crucial for Leeds on Sunday is former City man Michael Brown. The combative 36 year old midfielder has earned a reputation for being a bit of a clogger in the middle of the park and he will have to be at his hatchet-man best against the likes of Yaya Touré and David Silva.
On the other side of the coin, ex-Leeds player James Milner will be out to prove a point to Roberto Mancini after inexplicably being dropped for the Southampton clash. Despite setting up a goal for Edin Džeko in the home draw with Liverpool the game before, as well as putting in a number of other strong performances lately (Arsenal away in particular), the 26 year old was on the bench at St. Mary’s.
It was just one of a number of head-scratching decisions made by Mancini but Sunday represents a chance to put a few wrongs right, and picking Milner would be a good start.
There are no two ways about it: this is a must win game for City. Following their early exit from the Champions League and the likelihood of the Premier League title heading to Old Trafford, the FA Cup is all Manchester City have left to play for trophy-wise. A defeat to a team from the division below will surely tighten the noose around Roberto Mancini’s neck and lend weight to the presumption of many that he will be out on his ear come the summer. Progression to the final and a second FA Cup triumph in three seasons could very well save the Italian’s job.