Paul Parker

City’s Anfield trip bigger than Wembley semi

Paul Parker

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Manchester City travel to Liverpool this evening for a big clash which is a pleasant bonus for a Monday night fixture.

City beat the Reds 3-0 at Eastlands back in August, but it was not quite the comprehensive victory that scoreline suggests. The result flattered City quite a bit, in my opinion.

This game kicks off the biggest week of Roberto Mancini's reign as City manager. A win against a side still with an outside chance of European football is vital if they are to move back above Chelsea, who are currently two points above them in third with a game in hand.

Then, five days later, they travel to Wembley to face bitter local rivals Manchester United in their first FA Cup semi-final in 30 years.

It has been even longer than that since they last won a major trophy, and beating their neighbours - who, in all likelihood, will be crowned champions soon - en route to ending that run would make a massive statement. If nothing else, it would get rid of that clock banner at Old Trafford which counts up the years since City last won something.

However despite all that I believe that Mancini would take finishing fourth in the league - thereby securing Champions League football - above winning the FA Cup this season.

Mark Hughes lost his job because he was not meeting the points-per-game rate set by the board at the start of last season, and was replaced by Mancini. The Italian was given a reprieve for being pipped to fourth place by Tottenham because he had only been at the club for a matter of months.

This season, however, there can be no excuses. Mancini has made eight major signings since arriving at the club, most of them for fees in excess of £20 million. The team plays very much in the style he wishes, having had a full pre-season in which to impress his footballing philosophy on the squad.

If City lose at Anfield then they will remain fourth, and suddenly they looking over their shoulder at Tottenham, who would be three points behind them having played a game less and - barring a miracle - with no further European distractions.

After occupying the upper reaches of the table all season, such a late drop for a second season in a row would be much more of a blow for which even a first major trophy in a generation could not compensate.

There is an argument that suggests City should really have made a much stronger bid for the title, given the way results have gone this season. It is hard to imagine that a championship will be won with as low a points total as this term for a number of years to come.

In those circumstances, even qualifying for a Champions League play-off could be seen as a slightly below par finish for City, but the club's owners would take that and lose Saturday's semi-final every time.

Winning the FA Cup would be fantastic for City, and it would be nice to see the competition won by a different team, but in today's game it is no substitute for a top-four finish.

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