A soft landing is not in the works for Manchester United after their recent two successive league defeats: a FA Cup tie at the Etihad Stadium versus leaders Manchester City awaits them. However, for that match, the 'noisy neighbours' will have some key players unavailable. The African Cup of Nations competition begins on January 21 and Ivory Coast has exercised their right to call in players for the international competition two weeks prior to it's start. Two of these players, brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure, are amongst those players participating.
City manager Roberto Mancini had requested for his players to be available for Saturday's match but this was denied by Ivory Coast manager Francois Zahoui. The Ivory Coast side is set to gather in Paris on Saturday before traveling to Abu Dhabi on Sunday for a two-week training camp. Here is what Zahoui had to say about the matter:
"Clubs know the rules. I'm expecting them for the FIFA deadline."
In addition to the Toure brothers, Mario Balotelli is expected to be unavailable for the clash as well. The Italian striker sustained an ankle injury prior to City's recent match with Sunderland. Furthermore, midfielder Gareth Barry is suspended for the match after he was sent-off in City's most recent match versus Liverpool.
During Mancini's press conference for this FA Cup tie, he anticipated that he may only have 17 players available for the match. A player that is very familiar to United -- Owen Hargreaves -- may feature against his old club. Here is what Mancini had to say about the midfielder during his press conference:
"Owen has worked with the team for the last week without problems. Owen needs to play and to work."
The holiday fixture list has been congested for all English clubs but after Saturday's match, every club has the following midweek off from competition. Therefore, it could be reasonably anticipated that both United and City will field strong sides for this early-stage FA Cup tie. A victory for United could provide a bit of redemption for the league derby defeat at Old Trafford and it could also help alleviate some of the pain from their recent defeats. A victory for City could prove to be psychological blow to United and it perhaps could set the tone for the season's latter half.