Saturday, May 14, 2011

Live Stream & Preview : MAN CITY v STOKE 14, 2011

MANCHESTER CITY vs STOKE CITY - MAY 14, 2011 - 14:00 +00:00

Neil Young and George Eastham, Joe Mercer and Tony Waddington. Only fans of Manchester City and Stoke City in advancing years will remember when those men brought Wembley glory to their clubs.

Young and Mercer were goalscorer and manager of Manchester City's last FA Cup final win in 1969. Eastham and Waddington were their Potters equivalents in 1972, when Stoke lifted the only major trophy in their history in that year's League Cup.

Such moments seem prehistoric in the light of both clubs' fortunes since. Stoke exited the First Division in 1985 and sunk down the league ladder, only to return in 2009. Manchester City's propensity for farce began to snowball once a championship chase was blown in 1972, and a downward spiral was completed with relegation to the third tier in 1998, on a day when they coincidentally beat Stoke City 5-2 at a spanking new Brittania Stadium.

During those interim periods, both clubs have returned to Wembley, though in the hunt for lesser concerns. This final will signify a return to a place that had looked so distant for so long. In an age where the FA Cup is derided as a lesser concern, anachronistic and needing of a rethink, its 2010-11 renewal has been granted two finalists for whom this match is no secondary bauble.

Yet these are two clubs of contrast. Manchester City are bankrolled by an oil-rich foreign investor, and have spent an estimated half-billion in getting here, while Stoke are owned by a local businessman, a bookmaker in fact, and success has been achieved through sensible increments of spending as the club's level has been lifted.

The two managers represent a world of difference too, if not a continent. Tony Pulis has been a journeyman as both player and manager and has taken 35 years of coaching to get to this place. Roberto Mancini has been a prince of Italian soccer since his teens, and coached only among the very elite.

In the light of those factors, it should be expected that the club from 30 miles north need only turn up to begin an era of trophy-laden success. But Manchester City have not exactly been streets ahead of their opponents; their head-to-head results have been even since their reacquaintance in the Premier League. And though City contain a depth of foreign talent, they can hardly be regarded as European stylistics to Stoke's base-level route-one-isms. Of the two, it is Stoke that have been involved in the more exciting fare this season, despite the offence they can still cause the footballing purists.

With two sets of boisterous fans thoroughly expected to make this a day to lift the roof off the new-ish Wembley, Saturday signals the completion of long, and sometimes painful journeys for both finalists.

Manchester City player to watch: David Silva. All that glisters is not gold, but Silva has proved precious to City, and cheap at the price of £29 million. His buzzing creativity is married to consistency, and he alone provided a spark as his team flagged against Tottenham Hotspur in midweek. Always at the heart of City's best play, he is sure to be guarded closely by one of Pulis' midfield warriors.

Stoke City player to watch: Kenwyne Jones. Jones has been Stoke's in-form striker, with five goals in six matches. His strike against Arsenal last Sunday was an object in walking the ball into the net, and he did it with no little skill. A fine header of the ball, and a strong runner down the channels when he wishes to be, Jones' undoubted talents have been coaxed to an apex by Pulis.

Key battle: Jermaine Pennant v Aleksandar Kolarov/Pablo Zabaleta. Doubts over the fitness of Matthew Etherington have thrown Pennant, his equivalent on the right wing, into greater importance for Stoke. He rose to the occasion against Arsenal last weekend, though could have found himself missing the final through suspension after retaliation against an injudicious Jack Wilshere tackle. His pace will be used against the left-hand side of Manchester City's defence, where one of Kolarov or Zabaleta will face him. Zabaleta struggled in midweek against the pace of Tottenham's Aaron Lennon, but Kolarov can hardly be termed a speedster. The Argentine has been fielded by Mancini in the big matches, while Kolarov has started 12 out of the past 13 matches. With Micah Richards likely to be at right back, then both face an anxious wait to see if they will start at Wembley.

Trivia: Manchester City are hoping to end 35 years without a trophy, and force the removal of that infamous ticker from Old Trafford's Stretford End. Should they do so, then it is United, and not City who will have suffered Manchester's longest trophy drought, 37 years from 1911 to 1948, though a pernickety type would point out that nine of those years saw regular football suspended for World Wars.

Stats: This will be Stoke City's first ever FA Cup final. Their previous best in the competition has been losing semi-finals in 1898-99, and two years in succession in 1970-71 and 1971-72, an era where there was a third-place play-off. The Potters finished third in 1971, and fourth the following year.

Betting: A wealth of bets can be taken on this keynote event, and you can check our Betting Zone for our team's range of selections. The basics are these: Manchester City are 1.90 to win, with Stoke at 4.00, and a draw, which means extra-time, is 3.60.

Prediction: An early lead for Manchester City, which they will try to hold on to, only for Stoke to take the game into extra-time where nerves will take hold and penalties will beckon, where Stoke will become Wembley heroes.


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