When Nigel de Jong joined Manchester City a year ago, it was his ambition to play in cup finals and win trophies. So the Dutchman is determined to move closer to making that a reality on Wednesday when his side take on Manchester United in the Carling Cup semi-final. After United's surprise FA Cup defeat to Leeds, Sir Alex Ferguson will reconsider his plan to field a less-experienced line-up against City in the first leg at Eastlands. But de Jong is not concerned about their rivals, but more about what his teammates can produce. "The quality of United is very strong, whether it is the first team or the second team," said the midfielder. "They have gone this far because of their young guys, so it doesn't matter who is playing.
"They are not weaker [than last season]. You just have to see where they are standing in the league. United are never weak. "They lost a good player in Cristiano Ronaldo, but that gives the opportunity for other players to show their qualities. Wayne Rooney has been on fire for them, and so has Ryan Giggs. "We have to focus on ourselves and perform the best we can on Wednesday. I have played international games home and away, and those games are very big, but derbies are very special. "With a place in the final at stake, everyone is expecting a lot and we are hungry for success as well. "This is what we aimed for at the start of the season so now we want to get into the final."
As expected, the derby has been the talk of the town, but not just among the supporters. But de Jong is confident the players will cope with the pressure, just like their new manager Robert Mancini. It will be the former Inter Milan man's first taste of the Manchester rivalry, but de Jong said: "I think he has enough experience to coach these kind of derbies because he has come from Italy, where the fans are also crazy, and the Milan derby is one of the biggest in the world. "It is a new experience, but he is excited about it, and that helps the players' confidence." Mancini has made an instant impact with three successive wins and clean sheets since he took over from Mark Hughes. "All Italian managers are really keen on defence, and that was the first thing he made us do at City, to concentrate on defence and trust that the rest will come as well," added de Jong.
Mancini has been pleased with the performances of his side, particularly the response from fringe players like Benjani, who started his first game in 13 months against Middlesbrough and scored the winner to book a fourth round FA Cup trip to Scunthorpe. The striker was expected to be on his way out in the transfer window, but Mancini said: "There is a chance he could stay because he is a good player, who scored a good goal and played well. At the moment he is important for the team." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org