Sunday, 8 January 2012

Manchester's finest spark life into the Third Round

On June the 30th 1999, Manchester United went a long way to devalue the oldest cup competition in the world as they pulled out of the FA Cup to play in the FIFA World Club Championships in Brazil, finally today's Manchester derby has gone some way to revive a dying old tradition.

At the time it was a decision that was set to play into the hands of the FA, it was made to aid England in their bid to host the 2006 World Cup. That of course never happened, Germany won the bid and United only finished fifth. 

United and the FA sold their soul to the devil and ever since it is something that wrangled with Sir Alex in particular. Ever since the infamous decision to withdraw the then Treble winners from the competition, year on year it has lost its importance with the Champions League’s riches proving to be more enticing that a trip out to Wembley.

Sunday’s barnstorming tie at the Etihad finally sparked some life into the cup weekend. Paolo Di Canio’s passionate post match interview was epic and magical. His League Two Swindon dumped out Wigan which provided us with the only genuine shock of the weekend, but we all know what Wigan's target is for this season.

Paolo Di Canio
The Wayne Rooney saga and the return of Paul Scholes ensured that pre match focus was taken off United’s poor run heading into argueably the biggest game of the season for the red half of Manchester.

The decision to rest Joe Hart and not risk the fitness of Mario Balotelli was testament that the trophy that launched Robert Mancini into City folklore, had taken a slide down in importance only a few months after winning it.

United fielded their strongest possible XI, and it was clear from the outset that they wanted it more and after soaking up the early pressure Wayne Rooney converted the fantastic Antonio Valencia’s cross.

Wayne Rooney
Then came the big talking point, never in a million years was it a red but if City are unsuccessful in their appeal Vincent Kompany will miss four games as it was his second dismissal of the season. It can be said this will be a more of a concern to Mancini than the exit, as Kompany would miss the entire Carling Cup tie and league games against Wigan and Tottenham.

City were excellent in the second half, and led by Sergio Aguero made a fantastic game of it. Sir Alex bemoaned his sides’ second half display as they took their foot of the gas and very nearly let City back into the game, but deep down he will be delighted with his team in a competition he loves. Earlier this week he discussed the need to re-ignite the magic of the cup and I believe his main suggestion of moving the semi finals away from Wembley would go some way.

This was the tie of the weekend, and early suggestions are that the average attendances are on the up and having the leading sides taking it seriously will also help with the push in popularity. You just get a feeling with their exit from the Champions League and City’s league form that the FA Cup is going to be very important to Sir Alex this season.

As I finish writing this piece I’ve just seen that United have the headline tie in the fourth round also having been drawn away to Liverpool. It is a mouth-watering game for obvious reasons, but on the pitch both teams have designs on winning the trophy and will be going hell for leather in what will be a pulsating game, it will be too close to call. 

Also for the other teams one of United and Liverpool will be out along with the holders, this season’s cup is brewing nicely and I hope it goes someway to breathing new life into the best competition in the world game. 

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