FA Cup Derby - Everton v Liverpool
The decision to locate all FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley for years to come isn’t the most popular decision the FA have ever made but Saturday might just see it justified for reasons other than paying off the loan to build the stadium. Everton meet Liverpool in the weekend’s first semi,coach loads of supporters leaving Merseyside at 4am for a game that would have been played in Manchester in days gone by.
It isn’t just the logistics of getting the best part of 90,000 supporters from the same city down to London for a lunchtime kick-off,logistics that have to take into account that it’s also Grand National Day at Aintree in Liverpool, the main complaint about Wembley semi-finals is from the traditionalists – going to Wembley is supposed to be the prize for reaching the final.
But all of that is forgotten now. And this is a final, of sorts. The FA Cup Final (North). No cup on offer but bragging rights for the next month at least – and well into next season if the winners of this match goon to win the final itself. And Monday will be hell for one half of Merseyside.
An FA Cup derby means clichés everywhere, one of the most used being the one about form books going out of windows. Liverpool’s form-book was thrown at Damien Comolli on Thursday as the club’s American owners decided it was time for a change and gave their Director of Football his cards. Making a change of this nature 48 hours before a semi-final is either madness or genius but nobody will know which until the game is over.
As for that form-book, Liverpool have done the double over Everton in the League this season, something David Moyes thinks makes his side the underdogs, but those two wins aren’t exactly a reflection of Liverpool’s season.
The Goodison derby in October was eventful – Jack Rodwell getting sent off midway through the first half for a foul on Luis Suárez and Liverpool awarded a penalty just before half-time for a foul on the same player by Phil Jagielka. As has so often been the case this season Liverpool failed to put the penalty away – Tim Howard saving Dirk Kuyt’s effort – but Everton’s hopes of hanging on for a draw were dashed when Andy Carroll hit the opening goal twenty minutes from the end, Suárez making it 2-0 ten minutes later. Rodwell’s red card was later rescinded and questions were asked about what might have been had Martin Atkinson not been so quick to flash the card in the first place.
The break through in that derby came shortly after a double - substitution from Kenny Dalglish – Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam making way for Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard. It was Andy Carroll’s first goal of the season, a close-range left-foot shot from a Jose Enrique cross, but the introduction of Bellamy and Gerrard (still to make his first start of the season by that point) had been the difference that brought the stale mate of 45 minutes of 'attackers v defenders', 11 v 10, to an end.
By the time of the Anfield derby last month it was David Moyes making multiple substitutions in one go in a hope of taking something from the game. Steven Gerrard was on from the start for this one and had already bagged two by the time Moyes made his triple-substitution just after the hour mark. Gerrard left the pitch with the ball tucked up his shirt, completing his hat-trick just before the final whistle.
Moyes got a lot of stick from supporters for the side he’d picked, making six changes from a side that had beaten Spurs three days earlier. Liverpool made four changes too – but that was four changes from aside that lost their weekend match. Both sides had an eye on the FA Cup quarterfinals that were to be played the following weekend, but there wasn’t universal agreement that the changes either side made were done so with that in mind.
Liverpool had lost their last three leagues games, the last two following their success in the Carling Cup. The most recent one suggested the Reds had lost interest in the league after qualifying for Europe through that win at Wembley. But a side that loses interest in a derby is a side that has major problems – as demonstrated by Roy Hodgson’s version of Liverpool FC the season before – and this game stood out a mile as one of the big ones in what was left of LFC’s league fixture list.
The usual problem in a derby is ensuring players control their passion and use it in a positive way. Reds’ captain Steven Gerrard did exactly that. His hat-trick – featuring a celebration where he answered the away supporters’ singing by pointing out that the baby is his – earned him a match-ball that he’ll cherish almost as much as the medals he’s picked up since stepping from the Academy into the first team as a teenager all those years ago.
As for that form book, Everton had gone into the Anfield derby on the back of a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions. They’d beaten top five sides Chelsea and Spurs during that run and their tails were high, or at least the supporters thought so. Time to get Liverpool back for that defeat in October, the defeat that was down in a big way to a wrongly awarded red card. Time to take back the bragging rights.
Whatever the reason for the six changes (some suggestions were that it gave the blues a more physical line-up, better suited to playing Liverpool in the old-fashioned derby way) the defeat is one of only two for the blues since early January, which more or less coincides with some shrewd work from David Moyes in the transfer window.
Moyes had already managed to get Landon Donovan on a two-month loan from LA Galaxy when he admitted that the money from the sale of Arteta had gone to the bank and not towards strengthening the squad. Blues fans were starting to protest, but by the end of the window he’d offloaded Luis Saha (free) and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (c £5m) and brought in midfielder Darron Gibson from Manchester United, Steven Pienaar (on loan) from Spurs and what looks like the bargain of the January window in Nikica Jelavic, a £5.5m signing from Rangers.
As Everton improved Liverpool regressed, that win over Everton the only one they managed in the league in a run of nine games since January. Relegation candidates QPR came back from 2-0 down to beat the reds 3-2 a few days before their rivals for survival, Wigan, beat the reds 2-1 at Anfield. A defeat at Newcastle saw Liverpool’s depression sink yet further but it also showed that maybe Liverpool did care about league results. The problem was that when Liverpool weren’t looking disinterested and lethargic (as against Wigan) they were letting their frustrations get the better of them (Pepe Reina getting sent off as a result).
The lousy run ended for Liverpool away to Blackburn on Tuesday, but not without causing some more problems. Reina’s red at Newcastle meant he was suspended until after the semi-final and Doni was set to stand in. That was until he got a red card of his own with Liverpool 2-0 up, meaning Brad Jones – third choice this season – became Liverpool’s fourth goalkeeper in three games. He saved a penalty from former Everton striker Yakubu – with what was his first touch of the ball in a league game for Liverpool. Yakubu still managed to score twice – once from the spot – and Liverpool fans feared it was going to be another night of dropped points. But Liverpool responded better than perhaps they have all season, the ten men rarely looking a man short and finally getting a winner right at the end of the game, Andy Carroll the hero.
There is no question at all that this Liverpool side had been picked with an eye on the semi-final. Luis Suarez was on the bench but Steven Gerrard was in the stands, Kenny Dalglish using the opportunity to ease Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger back from injury in the hope of having both available for Wembley.
David Moyes was in the stands too, in the hope of being able to learn something about the reds ahead of the trip to London. He’ll probably have a few ideas on how to make like difficult for Brad Jones but this game is unlikely to give much away about Kenny’s plans for Wembley.
Everton’s last league game in the run-up to the semi-final was a day earlier, an afternoon kick-off on the Easter Monday holiday, but Moyes still took the precaution of resting Baines, Cahill and Jelavic. This time, unlike that Anfield derby, it didn’t backfire and despite those changes they battered Sunderland 4-0 and sent their supporters home happy and ready for the journey south.
The blues go into the semi-final above Liverpool in the league, something neither side would have expected to be the case going into the New Year. The gap is one point, goal difference is identical.
Predicting a winner for this match is as easy as backing the winner on the Grand National. You can look at form, at the conditions, at past meetings and at what everyone else seems to think will happen but deep down you know that it’s almost certain to be decided by a random moment of good or bad luck. If it goes to penalties Everton will feel they have the advantage –Liverpool’s penalty record this season has been awful and Howard has already saved from the spot against the reds. But Brad Jones might just have something to say about that.
The one big unknown for this match is how the referee will officiate the game. Howard Webb is the man with the whistle and memories of him doing the job in a World Cup final are hard to forget. He issued 14 yellow cards in the game between Spain and Holland, a record, and two of those cards went to Everton’s Johnny Heitinga. Everton have suffered at the hands of referees in the past in FA Cup semi-finals against Liverpool and might be hoping that the errors of Clive Thomas are cancelled out in this one. That said, Liverpool might feel it’s about time they got the benefit of any refereeing errors after a season being on the wrong end more often than not.
What everybody wants to see is an exciting match and once the nerves on both sides have settled it’s sure to be exactly that. There has to be a winner on the day, extra-time and penalties making sure of that if needed. As for who to stick your money on – just stick a pin in the page.
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