Manchester City looks to rescue season by winning FA Cup
After flopping in Europe and messing up the defense of its Premier League title, Manchester City can rescue its season by beating Wigan in the FA Cup final on Saturday and capturing silverware for the third straight year.
Expectations have soared at City and going a season without a trophy would be unacceptable to its Abu Dhabi owners, especially after crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage and relinquishing its league crown to Manchester United a month before the end of the campaign.
With Wigan struggling against relegation in the league and hit by injury as it approaches one of the biggest matches in its 81-year history, City couldn't ask for a better chance to add to its FA Cup win in 2011 and league title from last year.
"We are bitterly disappointed how the league went this year,'' City midfielder James Milner said. "The main thing is that we win a piece of silverware at the weekend and take the momentum of winning a trophy into next season.''
At the end of a momentous week that saw Alex Ferguson announce he'd be retiring from United, victory for City would ensure the blue half of Manchester takes back some of the limelight. It would also make a statement of intent ahead of next season, with United potentially in a state of flux without its manager of nearly 27 years.
"We concentrate on our business over here - it's obviously big news but all we are concentrating on us the FA Cup final,'' Milner added. "(The Manchester rivalry) is not going to be any more open than it would have been if he (Ferguson) was there next year.
"He's been an amazing manager for them over the years, his record is ridiculous. Unreal. But all we are concerned with is our side.''
In terms of squad depth, budget and pure talent, City and Wigan are worlds apart. City has won the last seven matches between the sides without conceding a goal, scoring 13 goals in the process.
While City sealed a third straight season in the Champions League on Tuesday - and almost certainly second place in the Premier League - a defensively inept Wigan was losing 3-2 to Swansea to lurch closer to relegation.
It's difficult to judge whether the game is a help or a distraction for the team known as "The Latics,'' who are playing in their first FA Cup final.
"Between that feeling of frustration and feeling low, we need to look forward to our unique achievement which an FA Cup final and get some momentum from that point on,'' Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said.
Martinez's position may also have been affected by Ferguson's decision to retire. With Everton manager David Moyes widely expected to take over at United, Martinez has been tipped to move to Goodison Park.
"At this moment in time, it would be a waste of time,'' Martinez said of his future. "The most important thing is to be as ready as we can for Saturday and then the two other finals we have in the league after that.
"It is the peak time for us. We want our fans to be proud of us and that is what we are fighting for. What goes around on the outside doesn't affect us. We won't lose any focus.''
While Yaya Toure - the scorer of City's winner in the 2011 cup final against Stoke - confirmed Thursday he will be fit for the match after missing the 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion with muscle fatigue, Wigan has a heap of defensive problems with Antolin Alcaraz, Ivan Ramis, Maynor Figueroa and Ronnie Stam all injured.
Under Martinez, however, Wigan has sprung many surprises and plays some of the best football in the league.
"They are one of the more difficult sides we have played this season,'' City captain Vincent Kompany said. "You can see it's a team that doesn't fear keeping possession.
"When it's going well for them they are a very difficult team to play against. We have to be careful.''
Wigan is already guaranteed a spot in the Europa League next season and can still escape relegation with games remaining against Arsenal and Aston Villa next week. For now, though, it's all about the FA Cup.
"The league has so much pressure with it - now we can switch off from that and really get in the mood of the cup, really enjoy the occasion and just go and give our best and try to get a result against a great side, the team that won the league last year, full of great players,'' Wigan defender Gary Caldwell said.
"There's no expectation on us, we can go and play with a real freedom and try to cause an upset.''