As Manchester City hitman Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp, title-winning strike nestled in the back of QPR’s net last May, many people believed English football was undergoing a power shift, with the nouveau riche “noisy neighbours” set to usurp rivals Manchester United as the dominant force in the Premier League.
But few could have predicted City’s course since then. The summer months saw a flawed transfer strategy, where Roberto Mancini lost out on his main transfer targets – Eden Hazard, Javi Martinez and Daniele De Rossi – though none will have hurt as much as losing Robin van Persie to the red half of Manchester.
Instead, over £50 million was spent on bench-warmers, including £15 million on the grossly overrated Jack Rodwell. It’s hard to make an argument for it being a summer of hard luck, but more a case of complacency from City’s wealthy owners.
The first cracks appeared in their opening match of their league title defence against newly-promoted Southampton, when the Citizens were unconvincing 3-2 winners.
The cracks soon turned to chasms and City’s failure to win a Champions League group match, let alone qualify from a group containing Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, wasn’t a surprise.
Mancini’s stubborn decision to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, as well as his candid criticism of star players, particularly Joe Hart, has raised eyebrows further.
Defeats to United and Sunderland plus draws with QPR and Liverpool have made it a harsh winter for Mancini, but it was last weekend when breaking point was reached.
In the return fixture against their opening day Premier League opponents, City were wretched, outplayed and broken, deservedly losing 3-1 to a Southampton side previously thought to be entrenched in a relegation battle.
While Gareth Barry and the aforementioned Hart were chief mistake-artists on the night, to blame just two players for the defeat would be naive.
City lacked solidity in defence and creativity in midfield, as well as being indecisive in attack – hardly the hallmarks of champions.
How City could have done with having Mario Balotelli as an option off the bench to provide a spark for a team flatter than a family kitchen on Shrove Tuesday.
The Citizens are now 12 points behind United and have drifted out to 14/1 with bwin to retain their title.
While Mancini was busy deciding where to wield his axe, Sir Alex Ferguson looked a picture of content and calm as he prepared for his side’s midweek Champions League tie with Real Madrid.
The Italian knows that a trophyless season could spell the end of his time at Eastlands, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding Jose Mourinho’s immediate future in Spain, and the FA Cup is arguably now his number one priority.
City are 5/2 joint-favourites with bwin to lift the trophy they won back in May 2011, but first they face the stubborn task of getting past Neil Warnock’s Leeds United on Sunday.
The Premier League side are huge favourites at odds of 4/25, but the 31/2 outsiders from Elland Road are no strangers to cup upsets, and nor is their outspoken manager.
Leeds may be struggling to reach the Championship play-offs, but they have defeated Premier League oppositionalready this season.
Both Everton and Southampton have fallen foul of the Whites in the Capital One Cup, while Tottenham were put to the sword in the previous round of this competition.
Warnock also has a decent record in the FA Cup, having taken his Sheffield United side to the semi-finals in 2003, where they were a David Seaman wonder-save away from reaching the final.
Regardless of recent form, it’s hard to look past a City win this weekend. For new customers looking for some value, then the multiple correct score market could be of interest.
City have conceded in ten of their 18 home fixtures this campaign, and the price of 3/1 for either a 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 home win might be worth a punt.
And given City’s defensive problems this season, Steve Morison could be a good price at 16/1 to net first or last, or 17/4 to net at any time. The Welsh striker, recently signed from Norwich, netted for the Canaries in their 5-1 away hammering at the Etihad last season.
The last time Leeds travelled to Manchester for an FA Cup tie, they defeated United 1-0, when Jermaine Beckford’s strike gave them a famous victory – a similar result on Sunday could see Mancini hang up his scarf for the final time.