Date: 10th March 2017 at 11:53am
Written by:

After failing to take the opportunity to move to second in the league table and ease Champion League qualification pressures City return to the North East again this weekend for their FA Cup quarter Final against Aitor Kranaka’s Middlesbrough.

Karanka could well be feeling a bit nervous with his admission that that he believes he has the full backing of the clubs chairman Steve Gibson. I’m not sure which is worse – having to say that you are confident you are being backed by your boss…or having just heard your boss give you a resounding ‘vote of confidence’. We all know what happened to the last manager who was given the wholehearted support of his board so he may do well to be careful what he wishes for.

Pep Guardiola takes his City side to the Riverside stadium knowing that the tie will be resolved on Saturday – no more replays for the quarter finals, the game will go to extra time and penalties if the scores are level after 90 minutes. Additionally should extra time be required then the managers will have the option of deploying a fourth substitute for the first time ever which will be an interesting twist but let’s hope it’s not required. With City facing Monaco next Wednesday for the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie, the last thing the players need will be an extended game this weekend.

City go into this match in the knowledge that they haven’t conceded an away goal since the 4-0 thumping by Everton in mid-January. In the five games away from the Etihad in this period City have scored eleven times without reply and we can only trust that this solid record is maintained on Teeside on Saturday afternoon. This new defensive solidity has seen a resurgence of City’s fortunes and has played no small part I am sure in creating the foundation for some of the scintillating forward play which we have witnessed recently. Coupled with Middlesbrough’s failure to score in their last four league fixtures and Blues can be hopeful that their side should have enough quality to see this game through without the need for extra time and penalties. Boro needed a very late winner against Oxford United in the fifth round to reach this stage of the competition and, thrilling thought the prospect of cup success is, one has to wonder exactly how much emphasis Karanka and, indeed, the Boro supporters, will put on this game given that they have slipped into the relegation places last weekend and are three points adrift of safety. FA Cup glory or Premier League survival?

I can foresee some changes to Karanka’s team selection this weekend. Boro will be without Ayala, Chambers and Friend but will have the services of ex-City player Adam Clayton to call upon. The midfielder has made 104 appearances for the Teeside club since joining from City in 2014 after joining City at the age of seven but never making a senior appearance for the club. Let’s hope he doesn’t choose this weekend to make his point to his former employers.

Pep gambled in midweek by resting two of his best players and points were dropped much to the chagrin of many Blues who generally felt that you should start your best team, get the job done and withdraw them later rather than save them for a concentrated burst as the game winds down. But what is done is done and we should see Sterling and Silva back in the starting XI as Pep seeks to progress to the semi-final stage in his first season as coach at the club. What other rabbits he will choose to pull of his ‘tactical coaching hat’ remain a mystery clouded as things are with the game against the Monégasque only a few days away. Pep has a full squad to select from aside from the long terms absentees Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus and the perennial doubt over Vincent Kompany’s fitness but we covered that last time out. Perhaps there might be a rest for Leroy Sané and a start for Fabian Delph or Fernando alongside the promising young Aleix Garcia in midfield as well as seeing Bravo back between the sticks. Iheanacho for the bench I suspect as Aguero continues to lead the line. Still, these are the problems that we always dreamed of having back in the day when finishing 17th was regarded as a successful season so bring it on!

Although City and Boro kick off the Cup Quarter Final action this weekend I strongly suspect that the broadcasters have regarded this as the most low key of the four ties and the scheduling is as much about clearing the decks of this ‘dull’ All Premier League clash before they move onto the drama of Premier League opponents take on lower or even non- league teams in the case of Arsenal and of course the ‘Mega-Fixture’ (TM the BBC/BT Sport) of Chelsea v Stretford on Monday evening as finally the rags face some Premier League opponents in the cup. All eyes I feel are likely to be centred on the Emirates where the football may take second place to the anticipated venting of Tarquin spleen against Arsene Wenger on Saturday evening. After their dismal exit from the Champions League in midweek the Arsenal players face a ‘no-win scenario’ against Lincoln City where they will be expected to emerge as victors. Goodness knows what might happen if Lincoln can pull off a remarkable victory. Still, this is the cup and anything can happen.

The Riverside has not been a terribly happy hunting ground for City over the years although Boro have actually failed to score against City in 3 out of the last 6 matches played there since 2004. In fact City won 0-1 on the last visit to the ground back in 2010 but still the place resonates for Blues fans with the memory of the shameful 8-1 capitulation in May 2008 as the curtain fell on Sven Goran Eriksen’s reign as City manager. Boy that was a dark day for City fans and I’m not sure we will ever be able to excise that particular ghost. It may be just as well because remembering that sort of result perhaps helps keep us grounded especially given it occurred just before the ADUG takeover and the brave new world we now inhabit. That said it would be nice to deliver a resounding thumping to the side that sneaked a point at the Etihad in the league back in November with an early, comprehensive lead allowing the withdrawal of Aguero, Silva etc before the trip to the Principality. Game on!

Come on City!!!

 
Click for the forum