Blue meets Red at Wembley for Merseyside Semi-Final
Over 60,000 supporters will make the pilgrimage from Liverpool to London on Saturday morning in a bid to watch their team triumph over their fiercest rivals, says Matthew Desai.
Everton will go into this much-anticipated fixture as underdogs despite being in far better form than their Merseyside counterparts, having lost just twice in their last seventeen games. The Blues are aiming to make their second FA Cup final appearance in four years, after beating Manchester United on penalties at this stage of the competition in 2009.
Liverpool may see this as the perfect game; a win could see their season saved, despite already bagging the Carling Cup, and put to bed any talk of an exit for manager Kenny Dalglish. A loss for The Reds couldn’t really put them in a worse position than their current predicament; sitting one point below their arch-rivals in the table and having won just two of their last ten Premier League games.
The Toffees ran out convincing winners in Easter Monday’s game against Sunderland at Goodison Park. It was the fourth time the two teams had met this season and the hosts put in an outstanding second-half performance to extend their unbeaten run over the Wearsiders to a remarkable seventeen games. Magaye Gueye got the scoring going just after the break, before exquisite finishes from Steven Pienaar and the brilliant Leon Osman made sure of the win. Victor Anichebe’s deflected effort ten minutes from time put the game to bed and ensured The Blues head into Saturday’s match full of confidence.
Liverpool will be buoyed by their last-gasp victory over struggling Blackburn at Ewood Park on Tuesday night. The visitors found themselves two goals up before the twenty-minute mark courtesy of a Maxi Rodriguez brace, before ‘keeper Brad Jones saved a Yakubu penalty after Alexander Doni became the second Liverpool keeper in three games to be sent off. The Yak did make amends minutes later when he headed in David Dunn’s free-kick, and then levelled for Rovers from the spot on the hour mark after goalkeeper Jones comedically hauled the former blue down. Andy Caroll then recorded only his fourth league goal of the season in stoppage time to give Liverpool an unlikely win.
Everton boast a rare clean bill of health ahead of the game, aside from Jack Rodwell, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a persistent hamstring injury. The left midfield berth, vacated by the cup-tied Steven Pienaar, is probably the only position manager David Moyes is still unsure of, with Royston Drenthe and Magaye Gueye being the two most likely candidates for the role. Nikica Jelavic is one of five players likely to return for The Blues and will be looking to add to his five goals in seven starts.
Liverpool are without suspended goalkeepers Jose Reina and Alexander Doni, so Brad Jones will continue to deputise after his mid-week exploits. Daniel Agger is likely to start after making his comeback from injury against Blackburn, while Martin Kelly could return from an ankle injury to give boss Kenny Dalglish a selection headache at right-back. Captain Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez will return after being rested.
Even though Liverpool played in a cup final back in February, you could still argue this game is the biggest of the season so far for both clubs. Everton have waited seventeen long years for some
silverware, ten of those under David Moyes, and he will believe it is about time a trophy was delivered under his regime. Liverpool are in a bad place at the moment, arguably at their lowest point since the Premier League began. A win over their neighbours would be a massive boost and a second trophy of the season could save what has been an otherwise year to forget.
Wembley Stadium will be descended on by seas of Blue and Red come midday on Saturday; the prize is a place in the final of football’s most glamorous domestic cup competition, and both of these great clubs will be hoping they are the ones making same trip down to London on May 5th.