What a momentous week it has been. Turn on the news, read the newspapers or switch on the radio and you could hardly miss all the talk about a Manchester club, a grand old football institution and what’s about to happen next.
Er, what do you mean, you don’t know about the match on Saturday? You know, the one that’s happening at Wembley? The FA Cup final? Manchester City v Wigan Athletic?
What do you mean you haven’t heard anything about it? The world’s oldest cup competition? Are you sure?
So much for the romance of the cup, eh? As Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement from, and David Moyes’ subsequent appointment to, Manchester United has knocked the situation in Syria, the Queen’s speech to Parliament, Ken Barlow and Tal Ben Haim’s loan move from QPR to Toronto out of the headlines, it is no surprise that FA Cup fever has hardly swept the nation.
In fact, it has barely swept the teams involved.
Both City and Wigan were busy in Premier League action on Tuesday, with the Latics embroiled in a dog-fight at the bottom that, following their home defeat to Swansea, they look set to lose and as they peered through their fingers at the table on Wednesday morning to see themselves three points from safety with two games left, the world’s oldest club cup competition was probably the furthest thing from their minds.
Add in Ferguson’s untimely intervention – he really does love getting one over on City, doesn’t he? – and you could be forgiven for not even realising the FA Cup final is this weekend, unless you work for ESPN, in which case you probably started your coverage about an hour ago.
Although it must be said, the low-key (okay, non-existent) build-up to the game means that we’ve so far largely been spared stories of Dave Whelan’s broken leg in the 1960 FA Cup final, so make the most of it while you can: I’m sure Whelan will be able to get over his chronic camera shyness to tell you all about it at some point.
But what the low-key build-up has also done is allow Manchester City to prepare out of the limelight for a match that they should be winning, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they will be doing.
Odds of 3/10 are giving nothing away for a one-off match, but this is one of those occasions where anything other than a City win would be a shock on a par with Wimbledon’s infamous 1988 final win over Liverpool, but not even unpredictable Wigan, priced at 15/2, can repeat that success. The draw is 9/2, but this is all about City.
I have been highly critical of Roberto Mancini this season and I think failure to beat Wigan here will see him packing his bags at the end of the season, and even though I wouldn’t rule that out entirely even if the Citizens are victorious, the Italian knows an FA Cup triumph here, a third trophy in three years, will save City’s season.
It is stating the obvious, but Mancini’s squad is so vastly superior to Wigan’s that it’s like they are playing different sports, and for all of Roberto Martinez’s reputation – and getting Athletic to the final is an impressive feat – there is only so much he can do, especially with a severe injury crisis at the back.
The Spaniard is without four first-choice defenders and their defending was so shambolic in midweek you fear any repeat would see City run up a cricket score.
If City turn up with the right attitude they will win, it is that simple, so it is about getting value on the 3/10, and the way to go is the 23/20 that Mancini’s men win to nil.
A total of 13 of City’s 22 league games have been won without conceding a goal, and they also have a great recent FA Cup record, too, keeping a clean sheet in nine of their last 11 cup ties at home, away and on neutral ground.
And since Mancini took charge at the Etihad, City have faced Wigan seven times, beating them on every occasion without even conceding one goal.
It is that, as much as anything, that shows the task facing Martinez’s men and though one-off, set-piece occasions can throw up unlikely results, there is nothing here to suggest Wigan can do it.
No team has conceded more league goals than Wigan’s 67 this season and even their much-vaunted ability to beat the big boys seems to have deserted them this year – the Latics have lost 14 of the 19 games they have played against the teams in the top half of the Premier League, conceding 43 goals in the process.
They have failed to score in ten of those matches and if City’s galaxy of stars do their job properly, they won’t be scoring on Saturday, either.
And as it is inconceivable Wigan can keep a clean sheet, City have to be the bet here and the 23/20 they win to nil is the play.