Derbies rule Wembley

All roads in England lead to Wembley Stadium this weekend as FA Cup, the world’s oldest cup competition, reaches the semi-final stage with two derbies on the cards. First to grace the hallowed London turf will be Merseyside rivals Everton and my Liverpool this afternoon before London giants Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur make the short distance across town tomorrow.

Merseyside derbies are always frantic affairs and the number of red cards in these clashes over the years bears testimony to the combative nature of these contests. The last time the two sides met at Wembley was in the finals of the same tournament 23 years ago, days after the infamous Hillsborough disaster which incidentally took place on April 15, and the red side of the city emerged victors.

Recent record seems to favour the Reds again given that their most impressive performance during their current dismal league run was against their blue neighbours but such is the nature of a derby and the lure of a Wembley final that nothing can be taken for granted. Kenny Dalglish’s men need to put up a better performance than those seen in the league if they are to maintain their dominance over their city rivals.

In any case, history is replete with examples of crumbling kingdoms and Liverpool, more than any other side, should be aware of that having experienced this phenomenon first-hand. Everton manager David Moyes should, therefore, be hoping that his side is due a change of fortunes in this match-up and an FA Cup semi-final is a golden opportunity to redress the balance of power and get one over his fellow Scot.

Questions have been asked about the timing of the changes in the Liverpool’s technical set-up announced on Thursday. There are those who feel the team could be unsettled as players become anxious about their own personal futures while others feel the changes could frustrate those players who feel the shake-up has not gone far enough towards addressing the problems facing the team.

Tomorrow’s match is even more difficult to call because both sides have enjoyed erratic runs. Either side is capable of putting up a sterling performance only to be dire the following time they play. It will, therefore, be interesting which sides will actually turn up at Wembley. What is not in doubt, however, is that both sides will be pumped up before the fixture as it offers a chance to win some trophy this season and salvage some pride.

This is particularly true for Chelsea who have, for the past seasons been used to winning at least a trophy. Having failed to win anything last season, another trophyless campaign will be unacceptable. While there is still a possibility of winning the Uefa Champions League, it is the FA Cup that offers the club a more realistic prospect of landing some silverware.

Meanwhile, league action continues elsewhere in England as the season hits the home stretch. Results last weekend seemed to suggest that destination of the title was almost definite but the party was at least postponed during the midweek action which saw to it that the battle will go on for a while yet. It may even go to the proverbial wire the way the fixtures look on paper.

The same goes for the Spanish Primera Liga where Real Madrid seemed to be running away with the title when they took a 10-point lead over their rivals Barcelona. Three draws in the last six matches, however, have made the pursuit for that honour as open as ever and we could be in for an interesting end to the season.

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