The Battle of Manchester will be set on unfamiliar turf this round. Not content with merely sparring each other at a local level, Manchester United and arch-rivals Manchester City are taking their brawl to that national stage. It's not quite the FA Cup final, but it's the next best thing, and it's all happening on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.
Manchester United are having another successful season and will presumably view this game as one more obstacle in their path to a possible treble now that they have a stranglehold on the Premier League and have dispatched nemeses Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals. City, on the other hand, have a chip on their collective shoulders.
The narrative is all skewed to one side here. City are perennial losers, something that their cross-city foes enjoy pointing out ad nauseum, and they stand a very good chance of winning the competition if only they can dispatch their demons against Sir Alex Ferguson and company.
Two two sides have met twice already this season - Wayne Rooney scoring a brilliant overhead kick to secure victory at Old Trafford and playing out to a goalless draw at the Eastlands, but a look at the wider picture does not bode particularly well for Roberto Mancini's side. Since the Italian took the helm, he has faced United four times and secured only one positive result, and the last time City did earn a win over United in the League Cup semi-final last season, it was overturned in the second leg, and United progressed to win the competition.
Mancini then has good reason to wish to change history for his suddenly beleaguered club:
All my players should understand very well that this is a big moment for us. The first trophy is the hardest but it is time for City to win something...
...The important thing is that we don't go there and think about the enormity of the game. We cannot afford for our heads to get full with the occasion.
United legend Paul Scholes, meanwhile, has made it plain that he doesn't much care about City, claiming that the only reason that they're even considered rivals at all is because of their geographical proximity:
When [City] are fourth or fifth, or wherever they are in the league, I don't think they can be classed as a main rival. Our main rivals are obviously Arsenal and Chelsea. I think City are just a rival because of where they are [geographically], and Liverpool the same.
In other words, one team's going to get themselves worked up into a frenzy, while the other side - who are better - are just treating this like another day of work. Either the extra motivation will actually get City to play good, free-flowing football, or they will implode in spectacular fashion. Does anyone really want Mario Balotelli riled up?
Injuries and Suspensions
Two huge names are out of the competition: Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. are out through suspension and injury respectively, with Rooney serving the final game of a two-match ban after swearing into a camera during United's 4-2 win over West Ham United, an act which the FA frowned on. Tevez. meanwhile, suffered a nasty hamstring injury during City's loss to Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the week, and the rest of his season is in some doubt. He certainly won't be playing much here.
They're not the only ones missing, however. Manchester City right back Jerome Boateng has been ruled out thanks to a knee injury, although Micah Richards has declared himself fit to play. United's Jonny Evans is still suspended for his red-card tackle on Stuart Holden last month, midfielder Darren Fletcher is still a doubt thanks to a bad virus which has kept him out of action for most of the month, and Rafael da Silva is still absent thanks to a knee injury sustained against Chelsea.
United have been content to use a 4-4-2 in recent weeks, and that didn't change for their match against Fulham with Rooney out. City, meanwhile, will almost certainly field a 4-2-3-1, but although we might normally expect such a shape to have control of the centre, Mancini's side plays so deep against capable teams that it acts more like a 6-3-1 split side. In order to get into the match City have to push their two defensive mids high enough forwards to impose themselves on the game. Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, and Yaya Toure will have to win their battle against a resurgent Michael Carrick and midfield partner Paul Scholes in order to give Manchester City any chance of achieving a result.
5:45 PM GMT (12:45 PM EST), Saturday April 16th.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Edwin van der Sar; Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, John O'Shea; Nani, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia; Dimitar Berbatov, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez.
*As much as you can project Sir Alex Ferguson's lineups, anyway.
Although Manchester City are clearly the more motivated side, that's an awful lot of pressure for a team that's never really showed it can handle it. They're slumping in the league and looking like they might not even keep hold of fourth this year, while Manchester United are soaring. Losing Wayne Rooney will hurt the league leaders, but the absence of Carlos Tevez will hurt City even more. 2-0 Manchester United.