I wonder what Roberto Mancini’s response would be if you asked him what makes the ideal preparation for his Manchester City side ahead of a tricky FA Cup tie?
Perhaps he would explain how important it is to have a few quiet, yet focused training sessions with his players to iron out the pre-match tactics – who is marking who, who will take the free-kicks, that sort of thing.
Maybe he would even cite his preference for a low-key press conference to ease the already substantial pressure that his players face each time they step on the pitch.
This is all hypothetical of course, but I am pretty certain that top of the list of things that the Italian would not want to happen 48 hours before an FA Cup tie is to have a scrap with his notorious bad-boy striker in front of the rest of the team and have it all beautifully captured for posterity by a photographer’s well-zoomed lens.
You can’t always get what you want, can you Roberto, eh?
As I’m sure you’ve all seen by now, that cheeky Mario Balotelli and his manager got up close and personal in training on Thursday and it now seems inevitable that the Italian striker will say ‘ciao’ to Manchester before the month is out.
Of far more immediate concern to Mancini, however, is an FA Cup third-round clash at home to Watford this Saturday, especially given his side’s hopeless cup performances this season.
City have already crashed out at the earliest possible opportunity of both the Capital One Cup and the Champions League and will not want to complete a hat-trick by doing likewise in the FA Cup.
For all my scare mongering, City are, as you would expect, the runaway favourites against their Championship opposition, with bwin’s 3-way betting market pricing them at 7/50 to win inside 90 minutes and 1/50 to progress to the next round.
The draw is at 11/2 and the somewhat forgotten Watford are long odds at 23/2 to cause the traditional FA Cup upset.
In fairness, the Hornets cannot be dismissed quite as easily as the betting would suggest since they are enjoying a strong season under the stewardship of a slightly more mild-mannered Italian, Gianfranco Zola.
Watford are well placed at the start of 2013 to push for promotion to the Premier League as they currently occupy sixth spot in the Championship table with a game in hand over the sides around them.
This position came about largely thanks to a run of just one defeat in 11 games, which was ruined on New Year’s Day by Charlton, who won 4-3 at Vicarage Road.
Despite the disappointment of that defeat, Watford will fancy their chances of at least giving City an uncomfortable 90 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, especially as they have averaged nearly two goals a game in the Championship.
They may be facing the Premier League’s joint-stingiest defence on Saturday, but the Hertfordshire club are a short 7/10 to score a goal, although admittedly you can find even shorter odds of 31/50 on just one side scoring in the game.
Watford have also got the ability to score late goals, as highlighted by over half of their 47 strikes this season coming in the final 30 minutes of games. They are 29/10 to score more goals in the second half in Manchester, as opposed to 18/5 to score more in the first.
These are all healthy odds for a strong return, but it is clear that the sensible money is on a home win and given that they have struck seven goals in their past two games, a 16/5 bet on a multiple correct score of either 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 in favour of City could be the way to go.
Oh, and in case you were wondering (you weren’t), Balotelli is 7/10 to score. Now that really would be an upset.
Top bet: Man City to beat Watford 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 @ 16/5