It may be dented, its ego bruised from years of neglect, but the F.A Cup has come back with a bang this season, and it’s significance is as great as ever.
Both Tottenham and Everton secured their place in the semi-finals at Wembley last night with convincing wins to set up dates with their respective rivals, Chelsea and Liverpool, in what is looking like the most fascinating final four line up in many years.
The sub-plots on offer make both ties mouth-watering prospects. Both Spurs and Chelsea could reach no definite conclusion when they played out a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend as they jostled for supremacy and the final Champions League qualification spot.
With both Manchester clubs certain of their place in Europe and Arsenal looking assured in the run in either one of these illustrious clubs will have to face up to the prospect of life away from European football’s ultimate challenge; and that is where the F.A Cup comes in.
And in many ways the competition which threatened to destroy it has also secured its future. There is no doubt it's reputation has been knocked by the emergence of the Champions League and the global game - however slowly but surely the Premier League's leading lights are starting to realise the F.A Cup is emerging as a trophy worth winning once more.
In the battle for a top four finish and the salvation of Champions League football, two of the three clubs competing in the semi-finals will almost certainly miss out in their pursuit of top tier European football and the financial rewards it offers.
Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool are scouring for credibility and a way to define their season after going through their respective rough patches throughout the season.
Newcastle, while out of the F.A Cup are still in the running for a top four spot and their presence in theory could mean all three giants of English football miss out.
Since 2006 Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham occupy the three spots behind Manchester City in the highest spending ranks; all three have repeatedly delved into the transfer market as they seek to secure a footing higher up the table to compete for titles, money and prestige.
But with so many clubs aiming for Champions League football and only four spots available, the F.A Cup has once more become a desirable trophy to win as fans; a key landmark along the road to success and a goal to aim with so many of English football's giants competing for so few spaces at the top.
Chelsea and Liverpool in particular are craving F.A Cup success as a way of showing signs of progress that their league position otherwise suggests.
Both teams are in real danger of missing out on the party; Chelsea have a five point gap to make up on Tottenham in fourth having dumped their manager mid-way through his maiden Premier League season amidst rumours of player power and turmoil in the dressing room.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish meanwhile will be counting his lucky stars that he is a bona fide member of the hall of fame, otherwise his overseeing of such a terrible slump in form would have likely been met with much more discontent from the club’s fans.
With five defeats in their last six games and 13 points adrift of Tottenham, the Reds can see their top four hopes slipping away once more and are increasingly relying on cup success to offer them something to cling on to.
Liverpool’s Merseyside derby semi-final will of course have the added weight of being played just a day before the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
Everton found themselves on the receiving end of a 3-0 defeat when the two clubs last met – a game which still marks Liverpool’s last Premier League victory – but make no mistake; David Moyes’ side are far better than that scoreline suggests and the manner they dispatched of Sunderland suggests they are ready for a repeat of their 2009 run to the final.
In a season where a top four place has been described as trophy in itself by Arsene Wenger it is refreshing to see the much maligned competition coming to the fore once more and occupying the thoughts of so many of the big clubs.
With the added significance placed on winning the F.A Cup this season and two potentially outstanding semi-finals on the cards, it seems the oldest club competition in football has just got a new lease of life.
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