• Chelsea v Manchester City, FA Cup

Confident City to cause Chelsea a concern

ESPN staff
April 12, 2013
A win for either Roberto Mancini or Rafael Benitez will see their side as the strong favourites to win the FA Cup © Getty Images

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At times, it may have three wheels on its wagon, but Rafael Benitez's Chelsea keeps rolling along. They are on course for his stated objectives - an FA Cup win, a top-four place and, after Thursday in Moscow, a Europa League too. The fact that Chelsea were just four points off Manchester United and in a League Cup semi-final when he arrived can be skirted for now. If Benitez grasped the poisoned chalice of Chelsea with his CV in mind, he is in sight of getting a glowing reference from Roman Abramovich.

Fatigue is an enemy of achievement. Benitez's fussy attitude to rotating might pay off but he is still dangerously short of bodies. Suspicions have been raised about that policy's effectiveness, especially in the light of Ashley Cole's muscle injury, which some have suggested is the result of too much inactivity rather than over-exertion. John Terry's slow return to prominence might be seen as another indicator of its downsides.

For the moment, the possibility of a treble of sorts is possible though Chelsea may end up playing 70 games this season and still end up without a prize to their name. Echoes of Arsenal in 1979-80 - losing finalists in both FA Cup and European Cup Winner's Cup - and a few of Leeds United's seasons under Don Revie where a push on three or more fronts ended in agony are to be avoided. There are signs of rattiness; David Luiz and Frank Lampard's half-time contretemps was either evidence of sagging togetherness, or in Benitez's world, a sign of winners wanting to win better.

Once Fernando Torres' lobbed goal had continued the rich vein of form that seemingly began with his having to wear a facemask - perhaps he can become football's Jason Vorhees - Chelsea looked set fair for the semi-finals but eventually had to ride out a belated Russian push. It would be perfectly understandable if Chelsea were to be found flagging in games. A thin squad has been flogged within inches of its life by participation in seven different competitions, and is coming up against a team perhaps looking the freshest of English football's main protagonists.

Earlier this week, Garry Cook, former Manchester City executive chairman, described Roberto Mancini as a 'winner'. That sponsorship came at Monday lunchtime, when such credentials might be openly contested. By 10pm that evening, there had been further reminders of the Italian's doggedness of spirit. His City team fought hard at Old Trafford, and Sergio Aguero's goal was the moment of class that came between the Mancunian candidates. Believe it or not, even with 12 points in hand, confidence is wobbling at Old Trafford. United travel to Stoke on Sunday with pressure on their shoulders.

City, having handed out a statement of intent for next season and can concentrate on a more realistic prospect of silverware. They may have to do it without David Silva, who collapsed to the Old Trafford turf in added time with a hamstring injury. Mancini will give his creative hub all the time he needs to recover and is optimistic of his availability. Silva's probing and prompting would always be missed, but the win at United also revealed the power play that made City title winners last season, and won them the FA Cup two years previously.

The champions have a look of renewal about them. Vincent Kompany looks the better for his unauthorised Belgium exploits, while Aguero came off the bench to score the type of goal that Romario once patented. City look in tune to salvage something from this season. Mancini's moaning about last summer's transfer business has been unhelpful, and especially when he had such a good group of players at his disposal anyway. Next season is the aim, and suggestions are that Mancini and his superiors are at the planning stage already, but taking something from 2012-13 would represent more than salvation.

With due deference to the good burghers of Millwall and Wigan, Sunday's semi-final has the definite look of being the competition's kingmaker.

Chelsea player to watch - David Luiz

Whatever the content of Luiz's frank exchange of views with Lampard in the Luzhniki Stadium, it revealed much of the Brazilian's standing within the Chelsea set-up. Luiz's self-confidence was evident from the moment he arrived at Stamford Bridge, and he looks to be the heir apparent to the big characters in the dressing room when Lampard and Terry depart. Benitez has leant heavily on him, either as an excellent anchorman or in his usual centre-half spot.

Manchester City player to watch - Yaya Toure

A new contract is signed, after some rather public brinkmanship tactics from his agent, but City are happy to pay the readies for a player of such importance. He grew in influence throughout Monday's Manchester derby, his power having its say before supplying the angled ball that allowed Aguero to space from which to weave magic. Toure is City's latterday Wembley hero. In 2011, it was his goals in the semi-final and final that broke a 35-year trophy duck to usher in a new City.

Key battle: Petr Cech v Sergio Aguero

Aguero is known for his late arrivals, and Monday was a reminder of why he cost £38 million. Perhaps only Luis Suarez possesses the ability to snake through a defence with close control like he does, and Aguero is probably a better finisher too. Should he manage to perform a similar slalom through Chelsea's defence then he comes up against a goalkeeper who looks back to something approaching his best of six to seven years ago. Cech's quarter-final save from Javier Hernandez may well be the Champagne moment of this season's competition, and his form continues to ensure Thibaut Courtois remains at Atletico Madrid.

Trivia: The two clubs have met at Wembley before, in the 1986 final of the Full Members' Cup, a long-forgotten competition set up in the wake of English clubs' exile from European football after the Heysel Disaster of 1985. It finished 5-4 to Chelsea, a scoreline that hid that they had led 5-1 at one point. Colin Lee grabbed a hat-trick for the London Blues, and David Speedie grabbed two. City's scorers were Mark Lillis (2), Steve Kinsey and an own-goal from Chelsea man-mountain Doug Rougvie.

Stats: Chelsea have been the dominant FA Cup team of recent years, but their current team is missing its own Wembley Wizard. Didier Drogba scored in the FA Cup finals of 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, the only player to score in four finals. In all, he scored in six finals for Chelsea. Last season, his thunderous strike began a 5-1 semi-final rout of Tottenham Hotspur.

Odds: City are favourites at 2.30 at bet365, while a Chelsea win is 3.30, and a draw, meaning extra-time, of course is 3.50. You can back either team at 12.00 to win on penalties.

Prediction: City's power and freshness to give them victory.

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