LONDON (Reuters) – When Manchester City last met Leeds United in the FA Cup, the fixture pitted a team flying high in the top flight and one who had fallen on hard times and slipped out of the game’s elite.
On Sunday the sides will meet again in the fifth round, and while the narrative remains the same, the roles of the two protagonists have been turned on their head.
Thirteen years ago, Leeds, on their way to a third-place Premier League finish, won 5-2 in a fourth-round stroll against a City side who had just been promoted to the second tier of English football having diced with financial meltdown.
Now the boot is on the other foot and City are rolling in Middle-Eastern wealth and fighting for a second consecutive Premier League title while Leeds are watching the pennies and trying to plot a route back to the top division.
The differing paths the teams have taken since they were both established members of English soccer’s elite in the late 1960s and 70s is a reminder of how financial misjudgements and high-stakes gambles can bring down even the biggest clubs.
Leeds, three times league champions, were flying when David O’Leary took them to the Champions League semi-final in 2001 with an expensively-assembled side that included 18 million pounds defender Rio Ferdinand.
The club took out large loans based on hopes of continued Champions League football and when they failed to qualify the next season, their problems spiralled and they were relegated in 2004. Three years later they fell into the third tier.
City’s demise from league champions in 1968 and FA Cup winners the following season was more drawn out.
Twice relegated from the top flight in the 1980s and once in each of the preceding two decades, 18 different permanent managers – seven in the 80′s alone – occupied City’s hot seat after 1979.
Their darkest hour came in 1998 when they too were relegated to the second division, or third tier of English football.
Unlike Leeds, however, there was a happy ending to their tale of woe as they rose from the ashes to become world football’s richest club under Abu Dhabi-stewardship that culminated in their first Premier League title last season.
City’s current title campaign has faltered, though, and it is unclear whether manager Roberto Mancini sees the Cup as an unwanted distraction or an opportunity to return to winning ways with their league challenge falling away in recent weeks.
The Italian has promised to ring the changes having seen his team slip 12 points adrift of Manchester United at the top of the table following a 3-1 defeat by Southampton last weekend.
Talking about his preparations for the Cup clash, Mancini said: "I will change players. I only want players who are ready for the fight in the last 12 games. I am very angry with a lot of my players and very disappointed at the performance (against Southampton), because it is impossible to play the way we did."
The previous round of the Cup underlined the difficulties in store for Premier League clubs who choose to rest players against lower division teams hungry to cause an upset.
Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa all made changes for their fourth round matches last month and were dumped out by lower league clubs.
Holders Chelsea were held to a draw at third tier Brentford and will play their fourth round replay on Sunday while other clubs are involved in fifth round clashes.
In the pick of the other ties, Arsenal host Blackburn Rovers on Saturday while Everton travel to Oldham Athletic who embarrassed Liverpool in the previous round.
The only all-Premier League tie pitches Manchester United against Reading at Old Trafford on Monday with the hosts lifted by their 1-1 draw at Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg.
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