Preview: Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur

And so to our cup final. At least that is how Roberto Mancini is describing tonight’s match against Tottenham, and nobody is arguing. If we win, we have another cup final on Sunday, but that’s beside the point. Nobody should look beyond Tottenham.

With the popularity of Harry Redknapp amongst the nations media and Spurs only needing a point, many pundits are tipping the Londoners to get a result. Praise for our victory over Villa seemed lukewarm in comparison to that afforded to Spurs for their 1-0 win over Bolton.

Am I the only one who is happy to see Spurs installed as favourites? Many in the media seem to overlook the qualities Roberto Mancini has brought to City. This could be the moment he shows his ability to get a result to a wider audience.

Tottenham’s attack is much vaunted, and is dangerous, but our defensive discipline shouldn’t be underestimated. An improvement by Bridge may be required, but that isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

Fulop should hopefully have more confidence, and if Vieira has recovered suficiently from his excellent performance on Sunday to do it all over again, then we should field a strong side.

Gareth Barry may be fit, but it would be a surprise to see any changes to the team which beat Villa. Having Barry on the bench would be a useful option. Likewise Wright-Phillips, Richards and Onuoha may all have a part to play. Santa Cruz has done little to suggest he is capable of winning a match but, who knows, a cameo appearance here could finally justify his transfer.

Roberto Mancini:

“Spurs are a strong team, like Aston Villa, but our approach has to be that we are positive when the game starts.

“It does not matter so much if we play well or play badly, but we must win.”

For Spurs, Gomes and King may both play, though whether they’re fully fit is another matter. Vedran Corluka is out so Kaboul is likely to deputise out of position at right-back. This suggests an opportunity for Bellamy, but Kaboul has been in good form and our Welshman will need to be at his best.

The other Welsh wide player on show has been receiving rave reviews, yet Zabaleta could be the man to stop Bale in his tracks. The bigger concern is Bridge’s defensive qualities. Many expect him to struggle against Lennon, though it’s worth noting that Bentley started on Saturday. Lennon only came on as a substitute and may not yet be back to his best form.

Another factor is home advantage, and for the fixture to be a night match is even better. There’s no doubt the players were lifted by the crowd when we beat United in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, and this promises to be an even bigger occasion.

Scoring first will be vital, and it would be nice to think we’d go on and put the game beyond Spurs. This is unlikely under Mancini, who sees the priority as protecting a lead rather than extending it. Hardly good for the nerves of those raised on open English football, but with the right balance of counter-attacking it does work as we saw against Villa and in the second half against Chelsea.

Nigel de Jong:

“We have a lot of experience in our squad, people who have played for club and country in high pressure situations. We are ready for the challenge.”

Many say that failure to finish in the top four would diminish Mancini’s chances of being manager next season. Not necessarily. In terms of results and trophies, Mourinho remains the outstanding manager around, and it’s hard to see him coming to City if we’re not in the Champions League.

No other candidate offers any greater guarantee of success than Mancini, particularly bearing in mind the upheaval of another managerial changeover. The board seem to realise this and Mancini, to his credit, looks quite relaxed about the situation.

His focus, and that of the team, is clearly on the game. For him and many of the recent signings, a game of this magnitude is nothing new, and that experience allied to great ability could be enough to see us through.

Blue Days line-up: Fulop, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Vieira, A Johnson, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor.

Prediction: 3-1 to City.

Verdict: Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 1
Player ratings: Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur

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