At the end of a week dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s shock retirement as Manchester United manager, Manchester City will seek to drag the spotlight back to the blue half of the city by beating Wigan Athletic in today’s FA Cup final.
Victory over Wigan would give City a third major title in three seasons and salve some of the pain inflicted by United’s uncontested romp to this season’s Premier League title and their own abject group-stage exit in the UEFA Champions League.
City’s fans would dearly love to interrupt the Ferguson swansong by repeating their 2011 FA Cup success and they will have been heartened by midfielder Yaya Toure’s claim that the Scot’s departure could spark a power shift in the city.
“It will make a big difference,” Toure said at City’s pre-final media day. “He is a great guy, a great manager, and I hope he stays in football. He has done something unbelievable for that club.”
However, the Ivorian added with a wry smile: “For us, I think it is going to be very important. It is looking like Manchester City will start to dominate the Premier League. I hope.”
City will spend the summer plotting how to sabotage David Moyes’ first season in the Old Trafford dugout, but midfielder James Milner said there would be no time for thoughts of their local rivals when his side take to the field at Wembley Stadium.
“I don’t think that affects us, really,” Milner said. “We concentrate on our business over here and it’s obviously big news, but all we are concentrating on is the FA Cup final.”
While today’s game represents an opportunity for City to salvage a disappointing season, for Wigan it falls at an unfortunate juncture in their bid to avoid relegation.
Tuesday’s agonizing 3-2 defeat at home to Swansea City left Wigan three points adrift of safety at the foot of the table and with only two games of the season remaining, their seven-year sojourn among the English elite is in serious jeopardy.
Manager Roberto Martinez refuses to view the FA Cup final as a distraction, though, and with the Latics appearing in the tournament finale for the very first time, he has urged his players to seize a rare opportunity to make history.
“I think in football, when you play with a fear of something to lose, which can happen when you’re in a battle to avoid relegation, sometimes you can make cagey decisions because you are playing with that fear,” the Spaniard said. “I think when you play in an FA Cup final, you haven’t got that feeling. You are playing to have something to win and that freedom allows you to enjoy your football a little bit more. This group of players is ready. They are ready to face the occasion on Saturday. We know that we are underdogs and we play one of the biggest teams in European football, and that’s what the FA Cup is all about.”
Wigan’s hopes of pulling off an upset have been compromised by injuries to key defender Maynor Figueroa, Chilean winger Jean Beausejour and utility man Ronnie Stam, but Martinez has given centerback Antolin Alcaraz a “50-50” chance of recovering from a hamstring injury.
City received some good news on Thursday when Toure declared himself fit to play after shrugging off a calf complaint.
Manager Roberto Mancini has already confirmed that Costel Pantilimon will continue in goal at the expense of first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart, having played in last month’s 2-1 defeat of Chelsea in the semi-finals.
“I know he [Hart] wants to play, but we decided at the start of the season it was important for Pantilimon to play in the two cups,” Mancini said.
City will start as strong favorites, but Wigan proved their worth by stunning Everton 3-0 in the quarter-finals, before sinking Millwall in the semis, and City captain Vincent Kompany has warned his side: “We have to be careful.”