Do not adjust your set, drama starts right here
By Liam Mackey
If you’re emotionally involved, it’s squeaky bum time between now and Monday night in England but for the rest of us, the tickle-your-fancy factor doesn’t get much better than what’s on offer over the next 72 hours — a brace of marquee name FA Cup semi-finals which double as tasty city derbies, along with another two helpings of the most entertaining Mancunian soap since the glory days on Corrie when the blessed Betty Turpin was serving up her famous hotpot at the Rovers’ Return.
First up, the neutrals — and, of course, the Blue Mooners — have to be grateful for the most uncharacteristic sight of Alex Ferguson putting a foot wrong in a title run-in. Sir is still lamely defending his decision to keep Paul Scholes on the bench at Wigan, but the relative ease with which the relegation-battlers outwitted the title-chasers meant that that flimsy case was demolished well before the final whistle blew at the DW.
And while United bungled without their most composed player, City bloomed without their most disruptive influence. With Mario Balotelli consigned to a corporate box, the noisy neighbours rediscovered their mojo against West Brom, Sergio Aguero back on the goal trail on the double and out-of-sorts David Silva showing his true class again with an exquisite finish.
And then there was Carlos Tevez. He got back on the goal trail too, admittedly after a somewhat longer absence than his fellow Argentine Aguero, but then this had been his first league start since — count the days — September.
Though still some way short of full match fitness, flashes of his Tevez’ quality were irresistible and his overall contribution to the thumping win a reminder of what City missed while he was off playing silly buggers. Of course, the player hardly fits the billing of ‘a good pro’ and is, frankly, lucky to be allowed kick a ball again at the Etihad but, with Balotelli having proved himself a more than capable bad boy understudy, City’s hopes of mounting a late title comeback require some fresh ‘wow’ factor — and Tevez, though hardly fresh himself, still seems better primed than most to deliver on that front. He might have many failings but, unlike Mario, few, if any, are ever visible on the pitch.
One notable point arising out of Wednesday night’s games is that there was a four-goal swing between United and City, City now boasting a goal difference of 53 to United’s 50.
Still, the smart money stays on United. For one thing, Alex Ferguson is unlikely to console his poor diddums with the thought that this was just one bad night at the office. And having taken out his frustration on his players, as only he can, the working assumption must be that they, in turn, will do likewise at home to a very poor Aston Villa side tomorrow. Much harder to call is Manchester City’s trip to Carrow Road today, and not only because City’s away form has been so underwhelming. For their part, Norwich might have terrible trouble keeping clean sheets but, as an attacking force, Paul Lambert’s side are more than a match for anyone.
Again, those of us who don’t want to see the Premier League race revert to being a procession, will have to hope that City leave East Anglia with three points today, in the process not only keeping up the psychological pressure on United when they play Villa tomorrow but ensuring that, at the very least, the five-point gap grows no wider before next week’s intriguing set of fixtures — when United face a distinctly challenging trip to Goodison Park while City have what looks as close to ‘a gimme’ as there is in the Premier League with the visit of free-falling Wolves.
Meantime, Everton warm up for the visit of the champions in the form of today’s FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Wembley. Form says Everton but reputation says Liverpool, even though that reputation has again come under siege this season as Anfield’s big guns misfire and Kenny Dalglish has, at times, seemed more naughty boy than Messiah. Still, it would be a brave punter who would care to bet the house on the outcome of any Merseyside derby, a fixture which can appear to exist in complete isolation of all other circumstances. Mix in the Reds’ current woes with traditional bragging rights and, for this one, the prize of a place in the cup final, and today’s coming together of red and blue has the the ingredients to be a cracker.
And taken in tandem with a second derby and yet another heavyweight clash — when Spurs play Chelsea in the second semi-final tomorrow — it all represents good news for the FA Cup itself, a trophy which has lost much of its lustre in recent years but which, in 2012, is shaping up to give us two semis and a final to stand the test of time. Like I say, not bad in front of the telly.Home