Manchester City hosted West Bromwich Albion in a Premier League match in name only.
Sure, the uniforms were standard issue. The ESPN television cameras were there. Presumably, neither the ticket prices nor the concession charges were reduced.
But for the Etihad faithful, even given the decent result, this match was little more than an exhibition.
City manager Roberto Mancini, clearly fearing for his job despite his many denials, stashed all his real weapons against West Brom to ensure a healthy side against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final at the weekend.
"I knew they would make some changes. I didn't envisage so many." So said Steve Clarke, West Brom's manager before his side's match with City, in response to learning about this:
Mancini had repeatedly and steadfastly denied the importance (h/t The Daily Mail) of the FA Cup to his ongoing job security.
Mancini has also continually defended his record as a whole even despite the loss of the Premier League title and the shambolic exit from the Champions League after the group stage this season.
‘I’m not happy with the season because I always want the maximum, but we have the chance to win the FA Cup and that is important," Mancini said.
He continued, this time in reference to the question of whether he could hold his job even if City failed to reclaim the FA Cup: "We can be in second position—if not, then every manager should be sacked."
Talk is so cheap, though. Apparently, even Mancini stopped believing his own idle chatter in the run-up to City's match with West Brom.
There is no other possible explanation for leaving Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta off the team sheet entirely, not to mention leaving David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Matija Nastasic on the bench to start the match, beyond Mancini seeing the FA Cup as his latest last stand.
The patchwork nature of this lineup could not be denied even by the house organ:
Again per The Daily Mail, Mancini conceded that all things being equal he would just as soon skip the West Brom game and spend the week in training for the FA Cup final.
"It would be better to have one week (of unbroken preparation)," Mancini said. "But we play Wigan and it is the same for them. Then we have four days to prepare."
Actually, it is not quite the same for Wigan—arguably, it is worse.
Wigan's date with Swansea City, played at the same time as City's dress rehearsal with West Brom, impacted significantly on Wigan's chances to avoid relegation.
So Roberto Martinez did not have the luxury of sitting his leading scorer, Arouna Kone, against Swansea the way Mancini sat Kompany, Yaya Toure, Aguero and so many others against West Brom.
Even worse for Wigan, they lost.
Maybe the funniest thing Mancini said with a straight face in advance of this West Brom match, played with Joe Hart, Carlos Tevez, James Milner and a host of reserves, was that he had not decided on his FA Cup starting eleven yet.
"I have not yet decided my Cup final team. We will only talk about it after tonight's game (with West Brom)," Mancini deadpanned per ESPNFC.com.
That is absurd.
Does Mancini think the people listening to him are easily fooled? Are we to believe that, say, Jack Rodwell (a starter against West Brom) could unseat David Silva for the FA Cup final with a good showing against the Baggies?
Or that Joleon Lescott, whose mail and paychecks have been delivered to Mancini's doghouse for months now, could replace Matija Nastasic in the FA Cup final with one good game?
Sometimes you wonder why the manager talks at all.
Particularly since, as here, the only words that counted as to how important the FA Cup final is to Mancini were the names he put on the team sheet against West Brom.