MANCHESTER // It is footballing cliche to take each game as it comes but an awareness of the context sometimes makes that harder. For Manchester City, the focus is on Aston Villa, but Wembley is visible in the background. As Pablo Zabaleta recognised, they will rarely have a better chance to win the FA Cup.
A home quarter-final is the reward for victory in tonight's fifth-round tie. In a competition won by the teams who comprised the Big Four in 14 of the past 15 seasons, Chelsea and Liverpool (plus nine-time-winners Tottenham Hotspur) have already exited, while the other two remaining superpowers, Manchester United and Arsenal, are due to collide in the last eight.
"If Arsenal beat Leyton Orient [tonight], they have to play United so that's motivation for us because Chelsea are out," said City's Argentine defender.
Progress then, given a favourable draw, could result in a semi-final against one of Birmingham, Bolton, Stoke and West Ham. A path to Wembley could be plotted without facing anyone in the top nine.
"We have a great chance now with the team and in the future," Zabaleta said. "We have great players so that is very important to win some trophies."
One scenario, all too plausible should they avoid each another in the last four, is for a first Manchester derby in the final at Wembley.
"Why not?" Zabaleta said. "It would be a great final but for that we need to try to beat other teams before we think about that."
They will be aided tonight by the return of Micah Richards and David Silva, who both missed Sunday's 1-1 draw with Fulham. However, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong remain sidelined.
Villa were hammered 4-0 at Eastlands in December but gained revenge by defeating City the following month in the Midlands.
"We played a great game against Aston Villa at home," Zabaleta added. "Now it's a different moment for them because they signed very good players in the transfer window."
They also have a rejuvenated veteran. The 37-year-old Robert Pires said: "The objective is to win the FA Cup." It is an aim City share.
11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +3