FA Cup nerves jangling as derby rivals clash

Liverpool must overcome a goalkeeping crisis to beat Everton while Tottenham Hotspur need to rediscover their confidence to get past Chelsea in this weekend's FA Cup semi-final derbies at Wembley Stadium.

What are likely to be two nerve-jangling matches will grab centre stage from the Premier League with Liverpool meeting Everton on Saturday and Spurs facing Chelsea on Sunday with a place in the May 5 final awaiting the winners.

None of the clubs are strangers to FA Cup glory having won the trophy 26 times between them since 1901.

The Merseyside affair on Saturday has an added poignancy being played the day before the anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster when 96 Liverpool fans died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Liverpool were given dispensation by the FA not to play on the actual date of the tragedy - April 15 - when an annual memorial service is held at Anfield.

That meant Chelsea's match had to be on Sunday, three days before Roberto Di Matteo's men face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

That, coupled with an evening kick-off time, angered Chelsea who asked for the match to be switched to Friday to give them more time to prepare for the Barca match, but the FA refused.

IN FORM

The only side showing any real form heading into the semi-finals are Everton, unbeaten in the last five matches although an under-strength team were ripped apart 3-0 at Anfield a month ago when Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard got a hat-trick.

Since then however, Everton have climbed above Liverpool in the table and gave one of their best performances of the season when they defeated Sunderland 4-0 on Monday.

Everton manager David Moyes, delighted with the recent upsurge, told the club website: "It's an important match for both of us but I can only tell you what we're thinking about at Everton.

"And at Everton we're going to try to be positive, we're going to try to give ourselves every opportunity to get to the final."

Liverpool, in contrast, are struggling, despite their last-gasp 3-2 win at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday.

Before that, the only win in their nine previous league matches was the one against Everton and while manager Kenny Dalglish will be delighted to have got three points at Blackburn, he has another crisis to occupy his thoughts.

Liverpool will be without their two senior goalkeepers, Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni, as both are serving suspensions for being sent off.

He will have to rely on third choice Australian Brad Jones with young Hungarian back-up Peter Kulacsi on the bench.

Liverpool will be seeking a hat-trick of wins over Everton this season and to keep on course for a cup double after winning the League Cup on penalties against Cardiff City in February.

OLD RIVALRY

Tottenham have the better record against Chelsea at Wembley having beaten them 2-1 in the first all-London FA Cup final at the old stadium in 1967 and by the same score in the League Cup final in 2008.

Spurs though are a shadow of the side that lost just once in 19 league games between September and January when they comfortably held third place.

Since the middle of February they have won just one of their eight league matches and, although they are fourth, they are playing poorly and lost at home to Norwich on Monday.

Manager Harry Redknapp told the Spurs website: "Monday was a bad day for us but we have to pick ourselves up. We've an FA Cup semi-final and then five big [league] games to go and we've got to look to win all five."

Tottenham are also battling against the weight of a dismal FA Cup semi-final record. Since they last won the FA Cup in 1991, they have reached five semi-finals and lost them all.

In contrast, Chelsea have won the FA Cup five times since then, lost two other finals and are bidding to reach their fourth final in the last six seasons.

Although Chelsea have not been playing particularly well, their results have improved since their former player, Italian Di Matteo, replaced Andre Villas Boas as caretaker manager last month with just one defeat in 11 matches.

Di Matteo scored the fastest FA Cup final goal at the old Wembley when he netted for Chelsea after 42 seconds against Middlesbrough in 1997.

Tottenham's Louis Saha, though, may be looking at one of his own because he scored the fastest FA Cup final goal of all time after 25 seconds for Everton against Chelsea in 2009.


SHARES
comments