The world’s oldest football competition continues over the weekend, in its 140th edition, to decide which four clubs will make it to the semi-finals. Six of the eight teams have won the competition before: Tottenham (8), Liverpool (7), Chelsea (6), Everton (5), Bolton (4), and Sunderland (2), whilst Leicester and Stoke have both made the illustrious cup final, but both lost out.
In the last twenty F.A. Cup Finals, one of the so-called Big Four – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool & Manchester United –have won the trophy 17 times and before last year’s final, which saw Manchester City, who are threatening and breaking up the Big Four more and more each season, fourteen of the past fifteen titles had gone to one of the top four.
Last year’s winners, Manchester City, who triumphed over Stoke City with the only goal of the game scored by Yaya Toure in the 74th minute, are already out of the competition having lost to Manchester United, who are also out, in January: however, last year’s runners-up are one of the remaining eight teams, but an away trip to Liverpool will hinder their chances of repeating their only F.A. Cup final appearance.
The other three ties see Everton take on Sunderland at Goodison Park and Tottenham host Bolton Wanderers in Saturday’s games; whilst the clash between Chelsea, who’ve won three of the last five F.A. Cups, and the only team left in the competition from outside of the Premier League – Leicester City – join the Liverpool-Stoke game on Sunday’s schedule.
Aside from Liverpool, who’ve already collected the Carling Cup on their travels this season, the F.A. Cup is the only competition the teams are left in, in which they have a reasonable chance of success – considering Champions League Chelsea look set to receive reigning champions Barcelona or Italian champions A.C. Milan, if they beat Benfica, in their European travels.
But who will take one step closer towards achieving success in this year’s edition of the world’s oldest association competition?
Everton vs. Sunderland
In the past decade, Sunderland haven’t beaten Everton once. That doesn’t matter though, but what will matter was David Moyes’ decision to rest the majority of his best XI in the midweek Merseyside derby, in order to have his side fresh for the F.A. Cup tie on Saturday.
Having beaten Arsenal to make it to the quarter-final, Sunderland will similarly be up for the cup and with a rejuvenated side at his disposal, Martin O’Neill could further enhance his messiah status with an enjoyable cup run in his first season in charge at the Stadium of Light.
However, Moyes’ has urged his men to remain focused ahead of the game, as The Toffees look to prolong their cup campaign with the hope of reaching their second final in four years: “We can’t think about a semi-final until we’ve won the quarter-final,” he said at Friday’s club press conference. “Once we’ve done that, then you can talk about it. If not, then we’re wasting our breath and talking out of turn. I’m sure everybody’s got a taste for it, whether they’ve been [to Wembley] or not. But you can’t think that way. You’ve got to think of winning the game. If you think any further ahead then you get caught up.”
On paper, this is perhaps the toughest to call: with both sides all but guaranteed Premier League survival with ten games left, but equally unlikely to break into 5th place to secure European qualification through league positioning, the F.A. Cup remains both sides’ pathway into Europe for next season. Similarly, another characteristic shared by the two bosses is the resurgence both teams have experience in the second half of this season.
If anything will separate the two sides on the day, it’ll be Moyes’ midweek decision, which the fans will be expecting to pay dividends.
Prediction: Everton win.
Tottenham vs. Bolton
For the home side, you wouldn’t imagine back in January that the cup would be a welcome distraction from the Premier League campaign: however, since the turn of the January 11th, Spurs have slipped from 3rd place and just three points off of the top, to fourteen points off of league leaders Manchester United and are in danger of slipping behind North London rivals Arsenal.
The cup run has gone from an unwelcome distraction in their bid for the title, but predominantly Champions League football, to a welcome distraction that is now providing Tottenham the chance to reset themselves after three straight league defeats. No better chance could’ve presented itself than relegation candidates Bolton Wanderers.
Although Bolton won last weekend, a controversial 2-1 win over fellow strugglers Q.P.R., thus lifting them out of the relegation zone by one point, two of Bolton’s next three games are six pointers and therefore, under the surface, Coyle’s may have the F.A. Cup no more central than his widest peripheral: “”We are under no illusions – our priority is to remain in the Barclays Premier League. But within that, I also believe that we can continue to progress in the FA Cup. Saturday will tell whether we are able to reach the semi-finals or not.” Although the competition could end up congesting a fixture list at the wrong time for a battling side, Coyle concedes that “winning breeds confidence.”
Prediction: Tottenham win.
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