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Manchester City have won their first major trophy in decades, triumphing 1-0 at Wembley over Stoke City to lift the FA Cup for the first time since 1969. It was a well-deserved win, too. Roberto Mancini's side were dominant from the beginning, dealing fairly comfortably with whatever Stoke could throw at them while repaying their attacks with devastating thrusts forwards of their own.
Mancini had raised some eyebrows by starting Italian striker Mario Balotelli as a left forward, but the volatile youngster performed brilliantly all game, causing Stoke's defenders huge problems and forcing Thomas Sorensen into a spectacular save midway through the first half. Eventually, he would contribute to the winning goal as well, which was smashed home by Yaya Toure (who also scored the goal that knocked out Manchester United in the semifinal) after the Ivorian was gifted with a loose ball in the penalty area.
It wasn't just Balotelli and Toure involved in the action, however - David Silva managed to miss the target when presented with an open goal on the half volley, and Carlos Tevez managed to draw another fine save from Sorensen, who was easily Stoke's best player on the night.
Stoke, on the other hand, were solid defensively but poor going forward, with Matthew Etherington looking unfit after being rushed back from a hamstring injury. Without any cut and thrust on the left side, their invention had to come through Jermaine Pennant, who became increasingly less effective as the match went on thanks to a pair of knocks to the ankle sandwiched around halftime.
Their best chance of the game came immediately before the Manchester City goal, when Etherington released Kenwyne Jones will a very pretty long pass forward. Jones brushed Joleon Lescott out of the away before attempting to steer the ball under Joe Hart, but the goalkeeper was up to the challenge and snuffed out the danger.
Anyway, as I mentioned, it's a win that was thoroughly earned by City, and they'll be thrilled that they get to tear down the banner Manchester United have been sporting at the Stretford End of Old Trafford that celebrates their '"noisy neighbours'" lack of silverware. For Stoke, a place in the Europa League is the consolation prize, which isn't so bad, and they will at least be able to walk off the pitch with their heads held high, knowing that they gave their far higher paid opponents quite a fight.
Right. You're 1-0 behind in an FA Cup final. Your only useful attacking option is Rory Delap and his ridiculously dangerous long throw ins. You have ten minutes left to score the goal that will take your side to extra time. What do you do?
If you're Stoke City manager Tony Pulis, you haul off Rory Delap to introduce ex-Aston Villa ex-hitman John Carew, which makes about as much sense as asking Aleksandar Kolarov to defend. It does add another forward to the mixer, but leaves Stoke with absolutely no ability to deliver the ball in (Delap is out, Etherington is out, Pennant is feeling an ankle injury). All seems very silly, if you were to ask me.
Manchester City are opting to defend in numbers, of course - they're perfectly happy with a 1-0 win, thank you. That said, they wouldn't be too sad if they could get another goal, and David Silva came pretty close to doubling their advantage, forcing another good save from Thomas Sorensen.
What's this? A zombie invasion of Wembley? Oh, no, it's just Adam Johnson coming in for Gareth Barry. As you were, gentlemen. Manchester City will be switching formations as a result, but it's not entirely clear where Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez will play.
Not that Manchester City fans will care though - after a melee in the Stoke City box Yaya Toure has given Roberto Mancini's side the lead! It wasn't a pretty goal by any means but Stoke defence was unable to clear and eventually paid the price as Toure lashed an unstoppable shot home past Thomas Sorensen after pouncing on a loose ball. All too easy for City, there, and they only have to hold out for fifteen more minutes to tear down that banner at the Streford end of Old Trafford.
Stoke, understandably, aren't thoroughly pleased with having conceded, and they don't look like getting one back here. Rough on Tony Pulis' team.
It took until the 62nd minute for Joe Hart to be severely tested, but the Manchester City goalkeeper was well up for the challange. An absolutely phenomenal ball over the top from Matthew Etherington found Kenwyne Jones in a footrace with Joleon Lescott, who tried to knock Jones down and fell over. leaving the Trinidadian one on one with Hart. Jones didn't have full control of the ball, but he tried to slip a shot under the England goalkeeper anyway, but Hart just about got down to save and smother.
That was Etherington's last contribution, incidentally - he's now off the pitch to be replaced by Dean Whitehead, with Rory Delap moving out to the left flank. Etherington obviously wasn't fully fit and Micah Richards was having no problem dealing with him - not that he'll have any issue with Delap when he has the ball at his feet either. Anyway, still 0-0, but Stoke are at least getting some interesting chances this half.
Well that's not good news for Stoke City and Jermaine Pennant. The right winger already had an ankle problem in the first half and now he's aggravated it further, limping around like... well, a man with a badly twisted ankle. That isn't going to force him off the pitch, through - he's popped up again to draw a foul from Mario Balotelli in a very dangerous position that actually causes chaos in the Manchester City penalty area.
Eventually City break and then David Silva contrives to turn a one on one with Thomas Sorensen into a pass into nowhere, which is rather odd. The ball is eventually worked back in to the penalty area, and Carlos Tevez smashes wide by way of a Stoke player. Aleksandar Kolarov wastes the corner.
Before all that happened, incidentally, both Tevez and Yaya Toure were involved in a brutal challenge on Andy Wilkinson which should have resulted in yellow cards for one of the two, at least. None was offered.
No changes for the second half despite that Jermaine Pennant ankle problem, and we're underway again at Wembley with the score still 0-0. Manchester City kick off and immediately go on the attack, with Nigel de Jong slipping in an immensely cute pass to left back Alexsandar Kolarov to get around the back of the Stoke defence, the Serbian opting to shoot straight into the side netting with his left foot rather than the rather more sensible option of passing it to one of Mario Balotelli or Carlos Tevez, which was a little bit odd.
At the other end of the pitch, Stoke cause problems thanks to a Rory Delap long throw. Manchester City can't clear and the ball ends up on Jermaine Pennant's right boot. The shot goes well wide into a crowd of players and the defenders eventually clear, but they're really having some issues with those throw-ins, which makes them just like every other team, then. City advance up the pitch and win a free kick in a dangerous situation, which is wasted when Micah Richards fouls Robert Huth as the ball is delivered
Well, that's that for the first half. Raise your hands if you were expecting 0-0 at half time. What, everyone? Alright. How about Manchester City having most of the chances but being unable to convert thanks to suffocating pressure from the Stoke defence? Oh. Well then. You just about predicted the shape of the match so far.
It's not that the game has been boring, because it hasn't, but it's been utterly predictable. Manchester City are much better than Stoke, but Tony Pulis' side are defending well and making vaguely threatening noises towards Joe Hart's goal (i.e Kenwyne Jones had a shot blocked and Rory Delap threw the ball a few times).
City have had several great chances to score, with Ryan Shawcross nearly putting into his own net and excellent shots from Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure coming very close as well. Their best chance, however, came to David Silva, and was uncharacteristically wasted by the Spaniard.
The half ended after two minutes of injury time that was mostly taken up by an apparently serious ankle injury to Stoke winger Jermaine Pennant suffered during an attempted tackle of Silva. After some treatment, he's able to limp off the field, but it's unclear whether he'll be out for the second half. Anyway, 0-0 at the interval. Shocker.
More minutes, more Manchester City pressure, more red-card-worthy offences from Robert Huth. Micah Richards is in possession and attempting to move towards the flank, which leads the ex-Chelsea centre half to fly in with a two footed scissor tackle. It earns him a yellow card, but that should be a straight red card, just like the elbow to Mario Balotelli's head earlier. Aleksandar Kolarov takes the free kick, so naturally it goes about ten yards over Thomas Sorensen's crossbar.
Nigel de Jong then attempts a sidefooted shot from 25 yards after excellent work from David Silva and Yaya Toure. The Dutch midfielder opted to sacrifice power for accuracy and managed neither, dribbling an appalling weak effort well wide of goal. He probably should have just hit that one. If I haven't talked about Stoke attack for a while, it's because they haven't gotten out of their half for longer than five seconds at a time for a little while, which is slightly sad.
Jermaine Pennant swings in a rare Stoke City free kick that Joe Hart collects. I wouldn't say it was a particularly comfortable grab, though - he nearly falls backwards into the goal in the process. Hart's clearance leads to a succession of Stoke throws, which is bad news for Manchester City. The last of the chain of Delap efforts turns into possession for Matthew Etherington in space on the left, who attempts to lay the ball off to Glenn Whelan only for David Silva to nick in to intercept. That's pretty poor from Etherington, really.
And wow, what a chance for David Silva. A lovely ball in from Carlos Tevez leaves Mario Balotelli one on one with Thomas Sorensen, and although the goalkeeper just about claws the ball away from the Italian, it bounces right onto the foot of Silva, who catches it on the half-volley. Silva is six yards out and Sorensen is helpless, so naturally he smacks the ball straight into the ground and well over the crossbar. What a waste.
Ooooh, that's brilliant by Mario Balotelli. Yaya Toure drives through the centre of the Stoke City defence, with players backing off him, but he can't quite figure out what to do when he reaches the edge of the box and opts to lay the ball off to Balotelli - not before the defence recovers. With nowhere to go, Balotelli shoots, and it's a delightful little effort that's bending towards the top corner. Thomas Sorensen is forced into action yet again, and he just about gets a fingertip to it to tip the ball away.
David Silva takes the corner, and it's not a very good one, but Manchester City soon after the ball back after a thunderous challenge on Jonathan Walters by Micah Richards. Walters is hurt, but the tackle was clean, and the move eventually ends with Carlos Tevez blasting the ball over from quite a good position. Tony Pulis, meanwhile, is furious that the foul wasn't given.
Isn't Matty Etherington usually much quicker than this? The winger is just back from a hamstring injury and doesn't seem to be moving particularly well - not that that's stopping both Micah Richards and Nigel de Jong from ganging up on him as soon as he gets possession. He quickly runs into a dead end.
At the other end of the pitch, Carlos Tevez burst into the area and nicks the ball past Thomas Sorensen, but his touch takes him too far outside and he's forced to work the ball back into the box. Eventually Stoke clear, but wow, Sorensen could easily have brought Tevez down there - he grabbed his leg only for Tevez to wrestle free.
Now it's time for Stoke's first shot, with Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters linking up only for Jones' effort to be blocked before it could make its way to Joe Hart in a situation far more perilous than the sentence so far looks. Seconds later, Jones wins a free kick from Vincent Kompany, which is blasted well, well over from Marc Wilson.
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a Rory Delap long throw! The Republic of Ireland midfielder has the ball in his hands for the first time in the match about 15 yards from the halfway line, and he hurls it into the penalty area - Manchester City just about deal with it, but a quite brilliant crunching tackle by Andy Wilkinson earns them another one, which finds Jermaine Pennant only for the winger to overhit a cross.
And now Mario Balotelli is down in the Stoke penalty area, well away from the ball. It turns out he's down for good reason as well, because Robert Huth has just given him a helfty whack to the nose with his elbow for no apparent reason. It's a good thing for Huth that none of the officials saw that - it's a straight red card if there ever was one otherwise. 'Why did he do that?', the commentators wonder. Mostly because he could get away with it and Balotelli is easy to wind up, one would suspect.
That's a good save from Thomas Sorensen, who had to fling himself to his left to deny Carlos Tevez after the Argentinian forward cut in from the Manchester City left and launched a thunderous right-footed shot towards the far corner. A fine shot, and a fine save, and Yaya Toure wasn't quite able to find the inevitable rebound. That's the find major chance of the day, but City look in the mood to create more, especially down the left where Mario Balotelli is causing problems.
City win another corner after Yaya Toure and Balotelli link up, and although the initial delivery is dire from Aleksandar Kolarov the ball eventually pings out to Nigel de Jong, who attempts a speculative shot which is about as accurate as one might expect if you picture de Jong shooting under pressure from 25 yards. Seconds later, Ryan Shawcross comes within a yard of scoring an own goal after deflecting a Kolarov cross just about to the safe side of the post - and now Toure has just creamed one past Sorensen's post with the goalkeeper well beaten. All City right now.
We're underway at Wembley Stadium, with Stoke in their distinctive red and white stripes kicking off against Manchester City in blue. The ball is quickly launched in the direction of Joe Hart's goal, and the England goalkeeper collects to launch a Manchester City attack that goes exactly nowhere. City are playing at speed, though, and quickly win a corner from which Robert Huth gets tangled up in Micah Richards' legs. The ball does, too, which is the main reason that Richards can't get a shot away. The ball's eventually cleared to safety.
So far City have most of the possession, as you'd expect, but they're not getting much joy driving through the Stoke centre. Nigel de Jong is proving a major barrier to Stoke's attacking hopes, as well, destroying the likes of Jermaine Pennant and Jonathan Walters as they try to get through the middle. From the looks of things so far, expect Stoke to play mostly on the counterattack.
Matt Etheringonton and Robert Huth were both injury doubts for Stoke City on the eve of their biggest game of the season, but both start in a 4-4-2 for the Potters, and that should make things much more interesting at Wembley. This is a strong Stoke side - they won't be favourites against Manchester City but could well run things very close here.
Thomas Sorensen starts in goal with a back line of Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, and Andy Wilkinson, and Etherington starts at left midfield with Rory Delap at central midfield/quarterback. Delap will be alongside an actual footballer* in Glenn Whelan, with Jermaine Pennant on the right, and Tony Pulis will use his tried and trusted strike partnership of Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones, both dangerous hitmen in their own right.
*Said with much love for Rory Delap.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Thomas Sorensen; Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Andy Wilkinson; Matt Etherington, Rory Delap, Glenn Whelan, Jermaine Pennant; Jonathan Walters, Kenwyne Jones
Carlos Tevez makes a return to a remarkably-attack minded Manchester City lineup for the FA Cup final against Stoke City at Wembley. Tevez, who suffered a hamstring injury several weeks ago against Liverpool and made his first appearance since in the final few minutes against Tottenham Hotspur, has been the source of much of the club's attacking thrust this season and his absence would have been a huge blow for Roberto Mancini's hopes of listing the club's first major trophy since 1976.
Tevez won't be on his own up front - he's joined by Italian striker Mario Balotelli and David Silva in what looks like a 4-3-3 ahead of a strong core of Yay Toure, Nigel de Jong, and Gareth Barry. It's a bit of an odd shape for Mancini to choose - normally we see City in a 4-2-3-1, but they need goals and this is one way of getting them.
Manchester City take on Stoke City in the 2011 FA Cup final, and it's Roberto Mancini's side that has everything to prove. Manchester City have now secured Champions League football, but they still haven't won a major trophy since 1981, and they'll be hoping to end that drought against Tony Pulis' Stoke at Wembley on Saturday.
City should be favourites, of course, but discounting Stoke after their masterful demolition of Bolton (and their generally excellent play over the last few months) would be foolish. City had the harder path to the final, of course, having to get through cross-town rivals Manchester United to advance, but Bolton are hardly a weak side and Stoke absolutely obliterated them the last time they ventured out to London, eventually running out 5-0 winners.
The interesting thing about Stoke's recent successes is that they aren't really playing very Stoke-ily. Yes, there's still an element of long ball, and yes, Rory Delap is still the closest thing English football will get to a quarterback in, well, forever, but their best moments as of late have come from playing what could be generously described as a slick passing game. That's how they thrashed Bolton, and that might have to be how they beat their rather illustrious opponents here.
Unlike the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City are fully prepared to go toe to toe with the Potters in a physical battle. Their defence boasts the unflappable Vincent Kompany, as well as the slightly more flappable but still actually quite good Joleon Lescott, and Micah Richards is always up for a scrap at right back. And that's not even mentioning Nigel de Jong, who might be the most underrated midfielder in the Premier League. It's hard to see Stoke's muscle intimidating anyone on City, with the possible exception of David Silva.
Silva, however, is more than likely to intimidate Stoke. One of the most skillful players in the Premier League, Silva is fully capable of turning any defender (or groups of defenders, really) into a gibbering pile of mush. With Carlos Tevez's presence questionable and Yaya Toure likely to be expertly marshalled by a Stoke defence probably best decribed as 'burly', City will be looking for Silva to provide the cutting edge they'll need to need to get through Robert Huth and company.
Saturday May 14th, 3:00 PM GMT (10:00 AM EST)
More closely matched than one might think based on league position. However, closely matched doesn't necessarily mean entertaining, and this has 'brutal 1-0 win' all over it. In games like that it's certainly not impossible for the underdog to nick a point, but it's mostly going to be a matter of luck. The edge has to go to City, however - they have options and weapons that Tony Pulis could only dream of.
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