At 15:00 BST on Saturday 14th May 2011, Manchester City FC and Stoke City FC will kick off the 2011 FA Cup Final in Wembley Stadium.
While both clubs share the “City” suffix, there is little in common between these otherwise very different clubs from Northern England: Manchester City are perhaps the most financially secure football club in the world; whereas Stoke find themselves in very much at the opposite end of the financial spectrum.
However, the contrasts in this tale of two cities do not end there: in terms of the football these two squads play, there are marked differences; differences which make this an intriguing and difficult to predict Cup Final.
Stoke play a very straightforward, direct style of football, built upon a solid defence, and a willingness to allow the opposing team the bulk of possession, while concentrating their attacking efforts primarily on set pieces. In particular, Stoke have a massive weapon in their armory, in the throw-ins of Rory Delap. These have seen Stoke pick up players capable of winning the ball in the air; which also makes them a serious threat from free-kicks just about anywhere outside of their own penalty area, as well as from corners.
City, on the other hand, have relied quite heavily on the goals from their excellent midfield, particularly when without Carlos Tevez, as they have not quite got the balance right in the final third to date, despite spending huge sums of money over the past two seasons.
Yaya Toure’s athletic runs from midfield will likely trouble Stoke, though the Potters know how to defend their own goal: Stoke, at least at home, have the stingiest defence in the Premier League, outside of the top five.
However, Manchester City have an able defence of their own, backed by England’s number one goalkeeper, Joe Hart, so, if Stoke are to get anything from today’s final, they’ll need to take what limited opportunities come their way, in addition to stopping Man City from scoring more than one goal.
A fascinating prospect lies in wait for both sets of fans who make the journey South to London.
The 2011 FA Cup Final comes after an exciting and entertaining cup run which has provided great memories for those connected with each club. The semi-finals saw Man City overcome local rivals United; while Stoke picked up a memorable 5-0 win over Bolton in their Wembley semi. However, there are at least 90 minutes remaining in this story.
FA Cup Final 2011 kicks off at 15:00 BST in Wembley Stadium, London.