The brightest of those who follow Manchester City will, most likely, have seen it coming. After 35 years of not having won a trophy, an FA Cup Final beckons.
Yet, even if City win on Saturday, you can bet your mortgage their hated neighbours Manchester United will steal the headlines.
The Wembley game kicks off at three o’clock. Over two hours before that United play at Blackburn needing a point to confirm a record 19th League title . . . and, as Sir Alex Ferguson so subtly put it, “they won’t muck it up.” Blame Sky and the acquiescence of the football authorities for allowing this shameless piece of scheduling to take place.
But, to be honest, I’m no longer confident that City will beat Stoke anyway, certainly not as confident of a ‘Manchester’ win as I was before the semi-finals took place. For all their individual talent, Roberto Mancini’s side showed weaknesses at Everton over the weekend that seem made for Tony Pulis and his team to exploit.
Both Everton goals were headers and City looked appallingly vulnerable throughout to crosses. The Stoke boss, who was watching at Goodison, will have been licking his lips even before Mancini’s post-match complaint about Everton reverting to the long ball. Everton? Has the Italian paid attention to Stoke?
Actually, I do the Potters a disservice. While their physical approach is undoubted, it’s also exaggerated. Arsenal committed many more fouls than Stoke did on Sunday. Had the roles been reversed, I can’t imagine Arsene Wenger would have shaken Pulis’s hand afterwards.
No, Stoke can play a bit too — the league table doesn’t lie — and nowhere was that more emphasised than in their Wembley demolition of Bolton. Sure, they will get in City’s faces and won’t shrug a tackle but Mancini’s charges better not shrink.
Both teams may miss major players. Robert Huth went off with a knee injury against Arsenal and there’s a huge doubt about the excellent Matthew Etherington whose presence on the wings with Jermaine Pennant again challenges the idea that Stoke are all muscle and no subtlety.
But Manchester City would miss Carlos Tevez more. Mancini says the Argentine will have to play some part in tonight’s game against Spurs or else he won’t be considered for Saturday. Neither Dzeko nor Balotelli nor the two of them together offers adequate compensation.
Much will depend on David Silva. He tends to be amongst the least lauded of Spain’s World Cup winners, unfairly so. I think he’s a magnificent player and much the best of Mancini’s buys at Eastlands. Only if Stoke corral him can they win the game.
Meantime, the bookmaker that paid out weeks ago on United winning the title can rest easy. They were brilliant against Chelsea who were richly flattered by the scoreline. Blackburn needn’t hope for any further help to avoid relegation.