The last time Barnsley were such underdogs in the FA Cup was in 2008, when they dispatched both Liverpool and Chelsea on their way to the semi-finals. This time around, against current top flight champions Manchester City - live on ESPN UK at 1730 GMT - they will hope to turn back the clock – but they will face a side who are more than motivated to take home the famous trophy this season.
Sitting way behind rivals United at the top of the Premier League, this is the last-chance saloon for City, and Roberto Mancini’s job may hinge on whether or not they can lift the trophy at Wembley in May. Results have not gone the way they would have wanted this season - especially in their European campaign - and, after spending such a huge amount on the squad, there is a feeling that patience is running thin at Eastlands.
Mancini is already without Sergio Aguero, ruled out by an injury picked up against Aston Villa. With Mario Balotelli now plying his trade elsewhere, that leaves just Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez to shoulder the goalscoring burden - although both are more than capable of making an impact. Jack Rodwell and Maicon are also out, while a late fitness test on skipper Vincent Kompany could give City a boost.
For the Tykes, midfielder Stephen Dawson could be back after being out since mid-January, while loanee Rory Delap is also set to return to the team following a spell on the sidelines. His long throws for Stoke have proved troublesome to City in the past, and manager David Flitcroft could be tempted to use an aerial bombardment as a Plan B, especially if Kompany is not at full strength.
The fact that Barnsley sit third from bottom in the Championship after their 1-1 draw with Burnley on Tuesday night may point to a possible upset. They were also struggling in the league in 2008, but rallied after their cup exit to secure their place in the division. While avoiding relegation is priority No. 1, the Tykes know more than most how important a cup run is for confidence when league form is not going the right way.
Both managers, at very different ends of the spectrum, will want to ensure that their sides progress to the semi-finals. If the underdogs can relive recent history, there could well be a bigger casualty than just City’s pride.
Barnsley player to watch: Luke Steele. The former Manchester United goalkeeper has a habit of making a name for himself in the FA Cup and put in a Man of the Match performance against Liverpool in 2008 before signing for the Yorkshire club on a permanent deal. He has been first choice ever since and will be key to their hopes of keeping the City strike force quiet. Now 28, Steele has experience to match his considerable talent, and the club will need to rely on his skills heavily if they are to progress.
Man City player to watch: Carlos Tevez. To quote Pablo Zabaleta, Tevez’s issues with City and Mancini in the past year have been ‘difficult’ for everyone to handle. It has now been a year since the Argentine striker made his return to the side after his well-documented problems, and he seems have been given a new lease of life since Mario Balotelli left for AC Milan. Tevez has scored in his last three games, and he’ll be central to Mancini’s plans.
Key Battle: Martin Cranie v Edin Dzeko: As a youngster at Southampton, defender Cranie was highly-rated and made his way through the England youth teams before reaching his peak at Under-21 level. He struggled for games at Portsmouth and only rediscovered his form during a spell at Coventry before signing a one-year deal at Oakwell. One of his main tasks will be to match the physical style of Dzeko, especially if the Bosnian is used as a substitute. Dzeko has found success off the bench this season and, if Barnsley are still in the game as the minutes tick away in the second half, Cranie will have to contend with a new challenge.
Trivia: The two teams have only ever met once before in the FA Cup: a 2-0 win for City in 1993.
Stats: In their last meeting in 2004-05, City beat Barnsley 7-1 in the League Cup, and they have won the last three games by an aggregate margin of 15-2.
Odds: Man City (1.12), Barnsley (19.00) and the draw (8.00) are on offer with bet365, while a shock 1-0 win for the Tykes is 41.00.
Prediction: Another shock could be on the cards if the magic of the FA Cup is to be trusted - but City will go all out as they only have this trophy to play for this season.
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