Clear the schedule, cancel any plans, kick back and relax – the F.A Cup is here to stay for the weekend.
The oldest cup competition in the world rarely gets the stage all to its self these days – even the final this year has to share the limelight with Premier League games kicking off hours beforehand – but for one weekend only all the attention is on Wembley.
Of course, there is still Premier League games across the upcoming weekend, but largely thanks to the games on offer in the cup, few will be paying attention to the comings and goings of the league for once.
Chelsea and Tottenham’s tussle for the Champions League gives their F.A Cup showdown on Sunday a delicious context while on Saturday the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool promises to deliver one of the most memorable ties in living memory.
For the two London-based outfits, the F.A Cup has taken on a new dimension as their race for a top four spot heats up.
Chelsea’s failings this season have been clear for all to see as yet another manager came and went before a former player whose Premier League experience amounts to failure with West Brom took control of the reigns.
Tottenham meanwhile, have endured a typically tumultuous campaign littered with high-hopes and crushing lows, yet they go into the game this weekend with a final sprint of six games (perhaps seven if this weekend goes well) that could make this other finest Premier League season to date.
Two finely matched sides have played out two tight draws already this campaign, while the prospect of one or perhaps even both missing out on the holy grail of Champions League qualification this season means that cup success is a greater priority than ever.
Spurs go into the game in perfect limbo. After a run of form which took them to the brink of a title challenge they now sit at the bottom of a trough, with just one win on their last eight league games.
Ironically their five game winless streak was meant to have been curtailed with the point they took away from Stamford Bridge last month.
Having had the better of the chances manager Harry Redknapp could rightly claim that his side deserved to walk away with all three points, and while it wasn’t to be there was a new feeling of relief around White Hart Lane that the slump that threatened to derail their campaign had been put to an end.
The 3-1 win over Swansea that followed was further proof that Spurs were back to their flying best; now the charge for third place and F.A Cup success was back on.
The draw with Sunderland and defeat against Norwich were not in the plan. Now, level on points with Newcastle and five adrift of third placed Arsenal was only made palatable by the face Chelsea now sit two points behind them thanks to their 1-1 draw with Fulham.
So now the two teams that have done battle all season go head to head with one game separating them from a showpiece final.
While the context of both Chelsea and Tottenham’s Premier League battle providing a bit of spice to proceedings, it is good old fashioned local rivalry that makes the first semi-final of the weekend so interesting.
Liverpool enjoyed a rare high point of the season with victory over Everton, which came thanks to a Steven Gerrard hat-trick. Otherwise there hasn’t been much to cheer about at Anfield recently.
Of course whenever Liverpool and Everton meet in the F.A Cup, most supporters thoughts immediately hark back to the 1989 final.
Billed as the ‘friendly final’ both Liverpool and Everton would have been well within their rights to withdraw with just five weeks between the final and the tragic events that took place at Hillsborough.
Liverpool emerged victorious that day, but had little to celebrate as they mourned they passing of 96 fans who died in the stadium.
The two clubs also contested the 1986 final with Liverpool once more emerging victorious, while Everton’s most recent cup success over their rivals came back in 2009 where Dan Gosling’s header ensured a place for the Toffees in the 5th round.
Both games offer a chance to hark back to the glory days of the F.A Cup and why it became so important in the first place. While the Premier League and the Champions League have perhaps overtaken it in some clubs eyes it is weekends like this one that show just why it is so special.
A heaving stadium, Two mouthwatering ties and once chance to make it the final for a shot at glory. The F.A Cup is undergoing a revival and there is no doubt football is a better place for it.
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