The FA Cup, football’s oldest club trophy is reaching its climax for another season. Last year saw Manchester City defeat Stoke, and gleefully force their cross-town rivals Manchester United to tear down the infamous ‘34 years‘ banner (that was updated every season that City finished trophy-less) from the Stretford End at Old Trafford.
This weekend sees the semi-final matches played at Wembley. The draw has resulted in a Mersey-side clash and a London clash, with Everton & Liverpool contesting the first match, while Tottenham & Chelsea will battle for the second place in the final on May 5.
Liverpool vs Everton: Wembley Stadium Saturday May 14 9.45pm
Liverpool versus Everton is always one of the key fixtures of the football calendar. In the Premier League, the Reds hold the bragging rights for the 2011/12 season, defeating the Toffees 2-0 at Goodison Park in October, and 3-0 at Anfield in March. Yet the latter match was played with essentially a second-string line-up from David Moyes; who was more concerned with Everton’s FA Cup tie with Sunderland that coming weekend.
Everton has shown their ability in the past to knock out the big sides at Wembley – such as when they beat Manchester United in the 2009 Semi-Final. Moyes has been at the helm since 2002, and will be desperate to finally bag a trophy.
Liverpool’s manager Kenny Dalglish has been under fire in recent weeks, and after Director of Football Damien Comolli left the club during the week, the pressure is certainly on for Dalglish to prove why he should remain at Anfield. Beating Everton and then winning the FA Cup – thus giving Liverpool a ‘Cup Double’ following their League Cup win – would help the Scot stake his claim.
Both clubs are unlikely to finish high enough in the league to qualify for European football next year, so winning the FA Cup (which provides a qualification place in the Europa League) is strong incentive for both sides.
Key Men – Liverpool: Steven Gerrard. Whenever Liverpool reach a cup final, so often it falls to the feet (or head) of Gerrard to carry his beloved Reds – such as the 2005 Champions League Final or the 2006 FA Cup Final. Gerrard recently stated that beating Everton at Wembley could help save their disappointing season.
Yet Gerrard has looked a shadow of himself in recent years, hampered by a number of injuries, as well as losing strike partner Fernando Torres. While Gerrard is no longer a certainty to start each week as he once was, if he plays – and plays as well as we know he can – we could see Liverpool on their way to winning an eighth FA Cup.
Key Men – Everton: Nikica Jelavić. The Croatian arrived at Goodison Park in January from Glasgow Rangers, and while few highlighted him to succeed; Jelavić has instantly filled the void of Louis Saha, and already scored five goals for the Toffees. Croatian national team coach Slaven Bilic recently claimed that Everton’s no 7 can even become ‘one of the most important strikers in the league‘. If Jelavić can fire, Everton can beat Liverpool.
Prediction: Liverpool have struggled enormously following their League Cup victory over Cardiff; while Everton have been quietly going about their business, and currently reside above their Mersey rivals in the league. This will be a close, tough contest – of which Everton will snatch a late winner. 2-1.
Tottenham vs Chelsea: Wembley Stadium Monday May 16 3.00am
Chelsea has enjoyed a successful period under interim-manager Roberto Di Matteo. The latter stages of the season has seen the West-London club reach the Semi-Finals of the Champions League, make a late – albeit unlikely – push for the top four in the league, the goal-scoring return of Fernando Torres, as well as reaching the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup.
The FA Cup and Wembley has been a theatre of success for Chelsea in recent years – having won the tournament in 2007, 2009 and 2012. While winning the Champions League (that owner Roman Abramovich is so desperate to achieve) seems a step too far for this Chelsea squad – the minor hurdle of Barcelona stands in their way –the FA Cup is a strong chance for the Blues to finish the season with a trophy, and guarantee European football for next year, in the form of the Europa League.
Tottenham on the other hand, have struggled as of late. They have only managed one win out of their last eight league appearances, and many fingers of blame have been pointed at manager Harry Redknapp being courted as the next England manager – a position that still remains vacant.
Before the New Year, Spurs were playing arguably the best football in the league. The North London club was flying, and looked to challenge for the league title – while Champions League qualification looked a certainty. Yet the wheels have fallen off in the past months, and Redknapp will be desperate to both finish fourth in the league, and win a trophy that many would say his side deserves.
Key Men – Tottenham: Rafael Van der Vaart. The Dutch midfielder has been one of Spurs best since signing from Real Madrid in 2010. With the support of Luka Modrić and Scott Parker in the middle, Van der Vaart will look to make attacking forays from inside the right wing, and link up with Emmanuel Adebayor up front.
Key Men – Chelsea: Fernando Torres. The Spanish number nine has hit a vein of form in recent weeks, and has pushed Didier Drogba out of the starting line-up on a number of occasions. Thus there is a strong likely-hood that Di Matteo will start El Niño up front, and Chelsea will need him to find the back of the net.
Prediction: The FA Cup may be a bridge too far for an already stretched Chelsea squad – who will have one eye on their upcoming European clash with Barça, as well as making a desperate push for the top four. Tottenham will be desperate to take something from this season. If Bale stays wide on the left wing, while Parker dictates the midfield to allow Modrić and Van der Vaart to feed Adebayor; then the Spurs can beat Chelsea. 2-0 to Tottenham.