City Can Match United: Mancini

Manchester United and Manchester City will meet in a potentially explosive FA Cup semi-final at Wembley next month. The bitter rivals would ideally have avoidedMancini one other until the final in May but the draw on Sunday means they will collide at the last?four stage of the competition for the first time since 1926, with Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City battling it out in the other semi-final.

City were made to work hard for the right to face United, with Micah Richards scoring the only goal of the game 16 minutes from time to beat Reading 1-0 in their quarter-final on Sunday. With the draw made prior to the match at Eastlands kicking off, City supporters had already turned their minds to the prospect of another titanic battle with United in a competition that represents their best chance of winning silverware this season.

United eliminated City from the Carling Cup at the semi-final stage in January last year, when Wayne Rooney scored in injury-time in the second leg at Old Trafford to give Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a 3?1 victory. Roberto Mancini claimed that their meeting in the FA Cup this season will not be viewed as an opportunity to exact revenge, although the City manager does believe his players have narrowed the gap on their neighbours.

“For us it’s important to improve,” Mancini said. “We have improved a lot in the last year. We are a good team and when we lose games we’ve played as a team and this is important. You can only improve if, when you lose, you understand what mistakes you have made. Manchester City is now very close to this club [United].”

Mancini admitted that he was relieved City had reached their first FA Cup semi-final in 30 years. “You’re always relieved. Three days ago we had a hard match against Dynamo Kiev and this was another hard match. This is normal when we play every three days and we have four or five players injured; it’s very hard. But for today I’m very happy for the supporters because they deserve to go to Wembley for this game.”

This is the first time since 1977 that all four FA Cup semi-finalists have come from north of Nottingham. The distance that supporters will have to travel, together with the costs they will incur, will raise fresh questions about the Football Association’s decision to use Wembley, rather than a neutral stadium in the Midlands or the north, as the venue at this stage of the competition.

Stoke are one of only two current Premier League clubs never to have reached the FA Cup final – Wigan Athletic are the other – and the jubilation that greeted news of the draw suggested their supporters believe that playing Bolton represents an excellent opportunity to put that record right. Tony Pulis, however, has warned the club’s supporters against complacency, with the Stoke manager claiming that Bolton – who remain on course to meet Manchester United in what would be a repeat of the 1958 final – should be regarded as favourites.

“I think it’s being disrespectful to Bolton to say that’s the draw we wanted,” Pulis said. “We just wanted to win today against West Ham and whatever team we pulled in the semi-final we’d treat them with total respect. If you look at Bolton’s history, they’ve certainly been a Premier League team for a lot longer than us and have more established Premier League players than us, so it will be a tough game.”

The semi-finals will take place across the weekend of 16?17 April, with the FA yet to confirm whether the Manchester derby will take place on the Saturday or Sunday.

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