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Ask most football fans about what day in the season they looked forward to the most in the past and the FA Cup would have often topped the list, but the grand old competition is on the wane.
This year, four Premier League fixtures will be played before the trophy-starved Manchester City and Stoke City take to the Wembley turf for a shot at glory, the irony being Manchester United could clinch the league title about 20 minutes before their bitter city rivals try to win their first piece of silverware since 1976.
Is this farcical and disrespectful to the FA Cup or a sign the times-are-a-changin’? Money rather than trophies seems to rule modern football, so it’s no surprise to see the lucrative Champions League taking over as the ‘must win’ competition.
Real Madrid 1 Barcelona 1. Pictures of the teams suggest they were both pleased with the result but you would imagine Barcelona came away the happier side. Though Real were down to ten men for almost the entire second half so must be relieved not to have lost.
Who gained the upper hand then from the first of four clasicos between last Saturday and May 3? Wednesday will be an interesting affair in the King’s Cup final, a one off match as opposed to the two-legged Champions League semi-final.
Barcelona destroyed their fierce domestic rivals 5-0 in November, and although the gap at the top of La Liga remains difficult for Real to peg back, they looked a very difficult team to beat against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Welcome back to a new week of football stories but not before we’ve taken you through our roundup of the weekend’s action around Europe.
Mother Nature has handed Manchester City the perfect chance to spend Christmas on top of the Premier League and with a decent fixture list over the next month their title prospects should start being taken seriously.
City have been underwhelming at times this season and the future of leading striker Carlos Tevez remains in doubt but with all their rivals grounded by heavy snow, Roberto Mancini’s millionaires will go top if they beat Everton on Monday.
A sense of deja-vu is sweeping Eastlands after Manchester City’s lame surrender against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday re-opened the cracks in the club’s glittering facade.
Manager Roberto Mancini has unrivalled spending power in English football but, just like Mark Hughes who he replaced nearly a year ago, is realising that there is one vital ingredient money cannot buy — team harmony.
The Premier League run-in is becoming so exciting that even stylish Italians like the usually calm Roberto Mancini are getting hot under the collar and wrestling opposition managers for the ball.
Our Premier League predictions competition needs a panel member to show similar passion or else Paul Radford will have wrapped up the title in a matter of weeks.
This time last year, I wrote a piece arguing that Manchester City were setting their sights in the transfer market pathetically low.
For a club with almost limiteless funds, putting Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong at the top of the transfer wish list was a bit like a Lottery winner hunting through the racks of last year’s suits at TK Maxx.
Manchester City’s chief executive Garry Cook has made an impassioned defence of the reasons for Mark Hughes’ sacking.
The feeling persists, however, that Hughes was harshly treated by the club.
Cook states that he and the club’s owners gave Hughes all the resources that he needed to achieve the target of 70 points for the season. The one resource Hughes did not get was time. Had just two of the almost freakish seven successive draws been turned into victories, City would have been in an extremely strong position in the race for a top-four spot.
It may be good entertainment but new Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini will not have enjoyed watching their 4-3 win over Sunderland on Saturday.
The uncomfortable nature of his appointment, with Mark Hughes taking charge of the game knowing he was sacked, will be a minor thought to the Italian now he has seen the challenge ahead of him.