Chelsea v Manchester City
THIS is unquestionably the more promising of the two FA Cup semi-finals but if previous clashes between Rafael Benitez and Roberto Mancini are anything to go by this won’t be a thriller.
The first two meetings between the two managers – one while Benitez was still in charge of Liverpool – ended in extraordinarily boring goalless draws.
The league meeting at Stamford Bridge was one of the dullest matches of the Premier League campaign, although it was Benitez’s first match in charge of Chelsea when he was encouraging caution and structure.
The recent contest at the City of Manchester Stadium once again saw Benitez select a cautious line-up. Rather than using his three creative talents – Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard – together he pushed Ramires into the attacking trio.
And the Brazilian was used to offer a more mobile, combative option and signalled Chelsea wanted to play on the counter-attack – but Ramires had a disappointing game with Hazard on the opposite threat a much bigger threat on the break.
That is Benitez’s crucial decision – whether Ramires should be used as a holding midfielder or wide on the right. Frank Lampard (the alternative in the deeper role) and Oscar are most at risk of missing out.
Ordinarily, you’d expect Benitez to choose the more cautious route but after Lampard played 90 minutes on a difficult plastic pitch at Rubin Kazan on Thursday, Oscar might be a better bet. Cesar Azpilicueta, rather than the more defensive-minded Branislav Ivanovic, should start at right-back.
Mancini has a similar dilemma – does he field Yaya Toure alongside Gareth Barry or push Toure forward into a more advanced position and introduce Javi Garcia as an extra holding midfielder?
It’s always difficult to predict Mancini’s selections and the fitness of David Silva will be key to his decision. The Spanish playmaker limped off towards the end of the 2-1 victory over Manchester United on Monday night, having starred in a central role. He should continue if 100 per cent fit but if not Mancini may decide to move Toure forward – the extra protection afforded by Garcia will be helpful against Chelsea’s creators.
Elsewhere, expect James Milner to start on the right and whereas he usually plays against Chelsea to track Ashley Cole up and down the line, at Wembley he might have a better attacking impact against back-up left-back Ryan Bertrand so Milner is a decent shout for first scorer at 24.0.
Samir Nasri did reasonably well against Manchester United and while Sergio Aguero hit the headlines with his sensational late winner at Old Trafford, Carlos Tevez’s link-up play was excellent and he deserves another start in what should be a tight, defensive-minded scrap.
My worry here is the lack of an intelligent deep-lying playmaker on either side. Lampard’s ball over the top of the Rubin Kazan defence for Fernando Torres on Thursday was sensational but if both sides defend deep in two banks of four I’m not sure these’s enough guile and ambition on the ball from the holding midfielders to work the ball into the final third.
Considering the previous contests between these two coaches – and with the game being played at a neutral venue, where both sides might be reluctant to take command of the game it’s amazing to see Under 2.5 Goals available at around 2.0.
Yes, there are a considerable number of attacking talents on show but they’ll surely be asked to play cautious roles from the outsets, with the coaches leaving themselves attacking options on the bench as an option to change the game.
Of course, selection plays a big part. If Oscar is picked rather than Lampard (with Ramires’ position changing) or Mancini goes for four attackers and Toure in a deeper role, things might get exciting. The teamsheets will say much about both managers’ intentions – but unless there are any major surprises backing Under 2.5 goals at 2.0 looks a fine bet.
Back James Milner to score first at 24.0
Back Under 2.5 goals at 2.0