Middlesbrough v Manchester City, FA Cup, January 2, 2010
A potential cupset at the Riverside awaits Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City this weekend, as onlookers will be given an insight into just how valuable the Citizens new boss values the greatest club competition in the world.
After a superb start to his tenure at Eastlands with back-to-back victories against Stoke and Wolves, the latest Italian in English football proclaimed that his team are gunning not only for a top four league finish but also for even higher honours. Achieving such lofty goals will undoubtedly be a huge challenge for City, and one wonders whether Mancini will place winning the FA Cup on the back-burner in order to focus all his energies on the big league prize.
City will likely ring the changes for their trip to Middlesbrough, allowing a run-out for some of the lessor lights at the club. In particular, Javier Garrido and Martin Petrov are tipped to patrol the City left hand side after both players found the net during Christmas having been deemed surplus to requirements during the Hughes era.
Stephen Ireland is out of action for two weeks for City after a scan revealed he suffered a damaged hamstring, while Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor will be absent having headed off to the African Cup of Nations, and Roque Santa Cruz still also be missing with a calf injury.
Craig Bellamy, in perhaps the form of his life in recent weeks, will be given the responsibility of leading the visitors attack, while Shaun Wright-Phillips could also look to do some damage down the City right after returning to fitness from an ankle problem.
Yet the visitors cosmetic problems in missing a select few of their squad of superstars, pales into the background compared to the real on-field problem faced by Gordon Strachan’s Boro.
The wee Scot, disliked by many in the game for his often perceived bad attitude, has had a poor start since taking over the hot-seat from Gareth Southgate, seeing his new side lose five times in his opening ten matches, including a 2-nil defeat to bitter rivals Newcastle.
The Scot will head into Saturday’s third round tie with his striking resources painfully depleted after loan signings Dave Kitson and Marcus Bent returned to their parent clubs, while Leroy Lita serves the second leg of his three-match ban. With Jeremie Aliadiere, who in any case has played much of his football for the club as a wide midfielder, struggling with an ankle injury, Boro is looking at innovative solutions to a major problem.
However, Strachan will not risk damaging the confidence of young forwards Jonathan Franks and Luke Williams by pairing them up and handing them the task of trying to shoot down the Premier League high-flyers.
Boro will have some quality in their team who can pose a serious problem to City, with left-footed wide man Adam Johnson the hosts key weapon in their offensive arsenal. The 22-year-old Englishman has been in spellbinding form since dropping into the Championship last season netting 10 goals in the first half of the season.
Boro will also be hoping that they can draw strength from their defensive qualities too. Sean St Ledger, although reported to want to quit the club, has been welcomed back into the side after a recent period on the sidelines, and he’ll start alongside the hugely-promising David Wheater at the heart of the home backline.
101predicts: Middlesbrough 0 – Manchester City 2 (7/1)
Full match odds here.