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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2011, 12:00am

No wonder the FA Cup semi-finalists have been complaining so vociferously about this weekend's trip south to Wembley - most of them don't know their way there. Manchester United are regular visitors, but Bolton last played in a semi-final 11 years ago, while you have to go back to 1981 for Manchester City's last appearance at this stage of the English competition and even further back to 1972 to find Stoke in the semi-finals.

With United playing City in tonight's first semi-final, at least we know Bolton or Stoke will have a shot at the famous trophy in the final on May 14. That gives the cup romantics something to cheer, in the hope the moneyed Manchester clubs can be toppled.

United's experience on the big stage gives them a significant edge over the other three, even if only five of their squad have tasted FA Cup success. United haven't lifted the trophy since 2004 and last made the final four years ago, but their squad is accustomed to performing on the big occasion - as they proved so adeptly with home and away victories over Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final.

City's squad has plenty of experience too, including World Cup and Champions League winners, but there is a different pressure for them -trying to end the 35-year drought since City last won a major trophy. This season's failed Premier League bid has shown that buying a collection of stars is not as important as building a culture of success, as United have done under Alex Ferguson over the past quarter of a century.

The balance of power in Manchester is showing little sign of shifting. Since City's mega-rich owners from Abu Dhabi took control in 2008, United have won six and drawn one of the eight head-to-heads between the two arch-rivals. City may have money, but on the pitch it is United who do the talking.

The chances of City redressing the balance have been much reduced by Carlos Tevez's absence owing to injury. Tevez has been City's main man under Roberto Mancini, leading the attack with a skill and determination unmatched by the other expensively assembled strikers. It was a double strike from Tevez that gave City their only win over United in the past three years, 2-1 in the home leg of last year's League Cup semi-final.

Tevez's scoring impact this season has been typical of his influence since his move across Manchester. He has scored about 40 per cent of their league goals and found the net in 11 of City's 16 wins in the Premier League, scoring the opening goal in seven of them. Those are match-turning stats and, without him, City cannot rely on anyone else to do the same job.

United have lost their key striker too, with Wayne Rooney suspended, but that is not such a significant loss. Rooney has been in the headlines more than the goals in the past year, seemingly affected by the ankle injury he suffered against Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League quarter-final.

Whereas Tevez's 19 league goals have been easily the biggest tally for City this season, Rooney has scored only 10 in the Premier League and has been upstaged by Dimitar Berbatov (with 21) and Javier Hernandez (11). Nani is just one goal behind Rooney.

Rooney's goals are outstripped by his 11 league assists and unquestionably his vision and guile will be missed. But again there are others who can make up for his absence. Nani leads the Premier League for assists with 18, while the ageless Ryan Giggs set up all three of United's goals over the two legs of the Champions League tie against Chelsea.

While United have built up a head of steam since the start of 2011, winning 17 out of 22 in all competitions, including a 2-1 league win over City, Mancini's team have stagnated even when Tevez has been playing. They have been knocked out of the Europa League and, having long ago faded out of contention in the title race, face another tough battle for a Champions League place.

The big worry, now that City are dragged south away from their Eastlands home, is that their away form is shot to pieces. City have failed to win in 10 away matches in all competitions in 2011 and have not scored in the last four.

United, by contrast, are likely to bring their best game to Wembley and they rate a good bet at the odds.

Tomorrow's second semi-final looks tighter, with Bolton and Stoke having won their respective home games in this season's head-to-heads. But Bolton are deserving favourites because they rate better on two key factors - league position and away form - that usually point to the winners of high-level games played on neutral territory.

Bolton's away league form is not far superior, but they have been impressive on the road during their FA Cup run with victories at Wigan, Fulham and Birmingham.

And with a final in touching distance, both sides are likely to be cautious. Nine of the last 10 semi-finals between two non-big-four teams have had under 2.5 goals. That looks a good bet for Bolton v Stoke, with a narrow win for the favourites the most likely outcome.

Formidable Fergie

FA Cup semi-final successes, out of nine, for United under Alex Ferguson: 8

Travel sickness

Goals scored by Manchester City in 10 away games in 2011: 6

Shortlist: West Ham, Coventry, Man United, Valencia, Bolton, Sociedad, Leverkusen, Rennes

TOP FIVE BETS

1 Manchester United win

Tevez-less City don't look good enough

2 Bolton win

Can show the qualities instilled by Owen Coyle

3 Valencia away win

Have hit top scoring form and should beat bottom club

4 Rennes home win

Have won eight out of 10 at home to teams outside the top six

5 Leverkusen on handicap

On a great run, strong on the road and underrated

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