Everton and Spurs look to shift balance of power and reach Cup Final
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's FA Cup action. Watch exclusive coverage of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton from 11am on ESPN
This promises to be a mega weekend for the FA Cup. It's only the third instance of a 'double derby' FA Cup semi-final weekend. The first came in 1950 when Liverpool defeated Everton and Chelsea lost to Arsenal. Then it happened again in 1993 when Arsenal beat Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday overcame their city rivals United, both at Wembley.
Saturday's semi-final between Liverpool and Everton is the third Merseyside derby of the season, with the men from Anfield winning the previous two. But I have a sneaking fancy for Everton in this though, just because their recent form has been so strong, with just two defeats in seventeen in all competitions. I know David Moyes has scant regard for his runners-up medal from three years ago, when his side lost to Chelsea - he feels his decade at Everton canÃ¢ÂÂt really be validated until he brings home a major trophy. If they can sneak past Liverpool then theyÃ¢ÂÂve got a really good chance of doing that. But itÃ¢ÂÂs a big Ã¢ÂÂifÃ¢ÂÂ.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs probably the most important Merseyside derby since the final of 1989, which followed horribly hard on the heels of the Hillsborough disaster. There will be a minuteÃ¢ÂÂs silence in both semi-finals this weekend to pay respect to the 96 who died in that tragedy 23 years ago.
Liverpool may well be fuelled by that. An FA Cup semi-final against their oldest and closest rivals on the weekend of the Hillsborough anniversary - if that canÃ¢ÂÂt motivate them, nothing will.
Third choice keeper Brad Jones steps out of the deepest and darkest of shadows to take his place between the posts for the Reds. There is a theme over the years of goalkeepers becoming heroes in the FA Cup having come from nowhere, and indeed of goalkeepers being plucked from obscurity before freezing on the big day. HeÃ¢ÂÂll certainly hope to find himself in the former section of the history books come Saturday evening
But Everton go into this with as good a chance as theyÃ¢ÂÂve had in 20 years of toppling their rivals. I donÃ¢ÂÂt feel thereÃ¢ÂÂs a great deal between the teams this year, as the Premier League table suggests.
Sadly for Everton theyÃ¢ÂÂve lost their current form player in Steven Pienaar, who is ineligible having featured for parent club Tottenham in the third round. Their key man will probably be Nikica Jelavic, who has made such an impression since signing from Rangers in January. A man who clearly knows the way to goal, he is something Everton really have been missing. Jelavic has all the signs for being a potential Everton hero for a number of years to come, and netting in this semi-final would be a good place to start.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will look to Steven Gerrard to lead by example. A man who as a boy used to go to Goodison one week and Anfield the next. There are always these twists, particularly with to the Merseyside derby, that so many of those that are now associated with red were initially blue and vice versa. Liverpool is a city apart and I think it shows on derby day.
Moving onto SundayÃ¢ÂÂs semi-final, it is an important day for both Tottenham and Chelsea, but I feel for Spurs it is a slightly more important. Barcelona loom for Chelsea three days beyond this game, and the longer this game goes on, the more that will play on their playersÃ¢ÂÂ minds.
Tottenham have got their own battle for a top four place, but they can put that aside for just one weekend. Harry Redknapp has a soft spot for the cup ever since his early managerial days with Bournemouth, where he knocked Manchester United out so spectacularly at Dean Court that January afternoon in 1984, and heÃ¢ÂÂll have his players up for this. ItÃ¢ÂÂs also time Gareth Bale stepped up to the plate after a fallow few weeks for Tottenham.
Just as I have a sneaking fancy for Everton, I would just edge towards Tottenham for a place in the final, as much because of ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs Champions League involvement than anything else, however good their run of form has been under Roberto Di Matteo.
Jon Champion is lead football commentator for ESPN, broadcaster for the FA Cup and the Barclays Premier League. ESPN will provide live and exclusive coverage of Liverpool v Everton in the FA Cup Semi Final from 11am on Saturday.