England is abuzz with Capital One Cup fever but attention will turn to the FA Cup this weekend, with Manchester City standing out as the best bet in the fourth round.
With the Citizens out of Europe and overrated in the latest English Premier League betting market – bookmakers are being ridiculous in quoting them at odds of around 11-4 when one statistical forecast tool estimates that they have a title chance of 13.3 per cent, which equates to 13-2 – Roberto Mancini cannot afford to take the English FA Cup lightly.
The bad news for Manchester City is that they have been drawn away from home in one of only two all-English Premier League ties in the English FA Cup fourth round. The good news is that the Citizens have been paired with Stoke.
Manchester City is available at odds of around 4-5 to beat the Potters at the Britannia Stadium and the gulf in class, combined with the Citizens knowing that the English FA Cup represents their best chance of silverware between now and the end of the season, makes Mancini’s men worth backing.
With five wins on the spin, including a 3-0 English Premier League home victory over Stoke on New Year’s Day, Manchester City is its country’s form team. The Potters tried to keep the Citizens at bay at the beginning of the month but Pablo Zabaleta opened the scoring just before the half-time break and it all the home side after they had eaten their oranges.
Manchester City afforded second-tier Watford the respect of a full-strength side in the English FA Cup third round and that tie was at the Etihad Stadium. It is hard to envisage anything other than an A-grade Citizens team facing Stoke at the Britannia Stadium given the importance of the occasion.
The Potters are safely positioned in the middle section of the English Premier League table and they were the last side among the country’s elite to lose a home match this season. But their relative mid-table security owes everything to their results against the division’s lesser lights and nothing to their results versus its established powers.
If one does not include extra time or penalties, Stoke has won just six of its 26 games in all competitions. The Potters have beaten only Fulham (1-0 home), Liverpool (3-1 home), Newcastle (2-1 home), Queens Park Rangers (1-0 home), Swansea (2-0 home) and West Bromwich (1-0 away). Against England’s top six, they have zero wins from eight matches – Arsenal (0-0 home), Chelsea (0-4 home and 0-1 away), Everton (1-1 home), Manchester City (1-1 home and 0-3 away), Manchester United (2-4 away) and Tottenham (0-0 away).
To use cricket parlance, Stoke is a flat-track bully that struggles on tricky wickets. The Potters have a terribly poor record versus England’s heavyweights – their limited, one-dimensional tactics tend to come unstuck – and that is why the Citizens are worth supporting at a shade of odds on.
Some punters would not dream of backing an odds-on football favourite away from home and, if you fall into that group, consider backing Queens Park Rangers to beat third-tier Milton Keynes at Loftus Road instead. The Super Hoops are 7-10 in some places to defeat their lowly ranked opponents.
Queens Park Rangers boss Harry Redknapp knows the importance of momentum and he will be desperate for his English Premier League struggler to win on home soil and extend its unbeaten run to half a dozen games. Failing to beat a Dons team that is in the hunt for an English League One play-off position would drain the Super Hoops of the confidence that they have gained in their recent matches against Chelsea, Tottenham, West Bromwich (two) and West Ham so Redknapp is likely to pick his best 11 for the English FA Cup fourth round tie.
It was before Redknapp’s time but Queens Park Rangers has played only one non-English Premier League side this term and it ran out convincing home winners. Walsall rocked up at Loftus Road for an English Capital One Cup clash in August and the Saddlers did not get a look in, going down 0-3.
Milton Keynes supporters would argue that their team is a bit better than Walsall. Point taken but surely the Dons should be shorter than 7-10 to lose away from home to an English Premier League side, even one as flawed as Queens Park Rangers. Odds of 1-2 would have been more appropriate.
Redknapp has insisted that the Super Hoops want to progress in the English FA Cup despite having the English Premier League relegation fight of their lives on their hands. Other Redknapp teams facing similar circumstances have treated the English FA Cup with tremendous respect so one can take the veteran manager at his word. And besides, if Redknapp did not care about the competition then he would have not bothered about beating the Baggies over two games.