FA Cup or Top Four for Man City…it’s a no brainer to me

Having successfully avoided the John Terry affair(s) like a man who spent the most of last week lying ill in bed, I was, for a large part of last week, laid up in bed feeling quite ill. And while I wasn’t doing much but feeling ill, I was able to do quite a bit of thinking about the situation that my club, Manchester City, are in.

It’s quite a delicate and precarious condition that City are in – after all, over three decades of no silverware is something that does need addressing. Especially when City have been in the top division for large spells of that barren run, though we mustn’t forget that the FA Cup and League Cup (and, on one occasion, the Auto Windscreen Shields Trophy) were hardly important matters for many a season when minds of players, numerous managers and fans were focussed on getting back in the top division.

But now, with the pulling power of a top four challenger and a last-minute defeat in a domestic cup semi-final, City are closer than they’ve ever been in ending that empty run. Of course, a top four place doesn’t come with a trophy, but show me a City fan that thinks finishing fourth is a bad season and I’ll be able to show you an imbecile in return. That’s because any right thinking member of the City faithful knows that fourth is a good… No, that fourth is a fantastic season.

Though a cup would be nice…

Since the semi-final defeat, that we’re cupless in so many years was a source of frustration for many fans and it’s an opinion I can sympathise with. Though there is the FA Cup, which should get quite interesting if City can overcome Stoke this weekend – as United, Liverpool and Arsenal have already gone, it would leave even the most pessimistic City fans wondering if the club could actually do it this time around.

Of course they can do it, but the laws of reality when City are concerned tells you that, if they do actually manage to win the FA Cup, then it’s not going to have been easy. Because City aren’t a normal club and never do things the normal way. Though finishing fourth, in my mind, is much more important than winning a trophy: City have gone my entire lifetime not winning cups, another season or two isn’t going to affect me that badly.

After the second disappointment at Old Trafford in time added on, City haven’t set the world on fire with their football. In fact, if we’re being perfectly honest, City haven’t exactly set the world on fire since Roberto Mancini took over. There was a good performance at Wolves, but apart from that, there’s been little free-flowing attacking football to shout about.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that, under the previous regime, the free-flowing attacking football often led to the City full backs being closer to the opposition’s goal line than City’s forwards for large spells of the game and regularly produced results that had a high tally of goals scored and conceded. And we were bleeding points.

While we might not be playing exciting football at the moment, City are, at least, winning. Results against Portsmouth and Bolton didn’t produce many highlights, but they did produce six points. And coming towards the crucial games of Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa at home, I’d rather take nine points than play well, which must surely be seen as just a bonus.

Playing Viera, de Jong and Barry in the midfield isn’t an offensive move and that’s how City set up against Bolton on Tuesday night. The theory, though, was that the three holding midfielders would allow Tevez, Adebayor and Johnson free reign to roam and create chances, but, in practise, it never quite happened.

The newboy, Adam Johnson, was head and shoulders above the rest of the team during that Bolton game and anything creative looked like it was going to come through him. I’d like to see him link up with Stephen Ireland, who, after a short spell on the sidelines, should hopefully be hitting his player of the season form again. But that’s going to take dropping one of the defensive midfielders.

Three defensive midfielders might work in the three big games coming up, but against sides that are going to try hitting City on the break, it’s going to produce matches that won’t be top of the running order on Match of the Day. Though, I’d take it over drawing 3-3 with Burnley or beating Sunderland 4-3… At home.

After all, in finishing fourth, City would get Champions League football. And that, in turn, would mean that players capable of showing the fans excellent football would be more interested in joining the club than they currently are. The big names that I see listed on fans’ forums as players “we must sign as soon as possible” aren’t interested in City because City can’t offer them football to a level at which they currently play. Change that and their disinterest in City may change, too.

Tell those players that City won’t be in next season’s Champions League, but they did win this season’s FA Cup, is that disinterest going to change as much? Unlikely.

Of course, both the FA Cup and fourth position is always a possibility, too. But offer me one or the other and I’d take fourth spot all day long.

Written By David Mooney