The F.A Cup has reached the semi-final stage and the draw has served up two cracking fixtures for us to sink our teeth into this weekend. Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur go head to head in an all London affair on Sunday afternoon, but before that, on Saturday lunchtime, Liverpool and Everton will make the trip south to face off against each other on the hallowed Wembley turf.
Neither side of Merseyside has set the Premier League on fire this season, and, as such, the F.A. Cup has taken on an even bigger significance than usual for these two famous teams. David Moyes rested key players in the Merseyside derby at Anfield, earlier in the season, to make sure the Toffees got a positive result against Sunderland in their F.A. Cup quarter final. The stratagy paid off, just about, as Everton got through the tie, winning the replay 0-2 at the Stadium of Light, after being held to a 1-1 draw at Goodison.
Liverpool’s cup form has offered supporters a welcome release from watching their side’s indifferent league campaign. The Reds, under Kenny Dalglish, have already secured one trophy this season, with victory in the Carling Cup final over Cardiff City, at Wembley, in February, and victory over Stoke City in the quarter final saw them book their tickets for a Wembley return. Despite sitting a point behind their neighbourhood rivals in the league table, the Reds have emerged victorious from their two previous meetings this term, scoring five and conceding none.
Liverpool have had the edge over the Goodison Park outfit at Wembley over the years, having won both in 1986 and 1989 when the two teams met in the F.A. Cup finals, however the last time the two teams met in the competition in 2009 the Blues emerged victorious after an extra time winner.
The suspensions of Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni mean that Brad Jones, the former Middlesborough man will make just his second start for Liverpool between the posts. Peter Gulasci has been recalled from his loan spell at Hull to act as cover for the afternoon. Stewart Downing, Daniel Agger, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard should all return to the starting line-up, with Dalglish facing a dilemma over whether to employ Dirk Kuyt or Andy Carroll as a second striker. Liverpool are still without the injured Martin Kelly, Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam.
David Moyes, again, rested his “big guns” for the victory over Sunderland last weekend, Nikica Jelavic, Royston Drenthe and Tim Cahill should all return to the starting line-up. However the Blues will be without, midfield dynamo and playmaker, Stephen Pienaar, who is cup tied after playing for Tottenham Hotspur in an earlier round.
Both teams head into Saturday’s showdown having picked up four points from their last two games and, although Everton’s recent league form has been slightly better, that will count for little when the teams take the field at Wembley at the weekend. Much may come down to the performances of each side’s star men: Nikica Jelavic, set to make his full Merseyside derby debut for the Blues, has scored six goals since his move from Rangers in January and is a bona-fide “fox in the box”. Luis Suarez Liverpool’s Uruguayan ace has been looking like his old unplayable self in recent weeks, the little wizard bagged a goal against the Toffees at Goodison earlier in the season, and put two on a plate for Gerrard in the return fixture at Anfield.
The game takes place on the eve of the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which affected the whole of Liverpool that terrible afternoon in 1989, and it is widely expected that both sets of fans will come together to pay a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in Sheffield 23 years ago. Let’s hope the game is a fitting tribute as well, it should be a belter.
Wembley image David Wison braveheartsports