Hello! It’s that time again, an FA Cup weekend that isn’t so much a weekend but rather two matches spread across two days – or the semi-finals as they have come to be known. I’ve vented my spleen in previous previews about why it is stupid to play these ties at Wembley, not only because it breaks the narrative of the “we’re going to Wembley” song, but in general it takes away the prestige of FA Cup final day. Long gone are the days where John Motson would speculate if these players could adapt to the cauldron of noise that Wembley stadium is on FA Cup final day. Now, you only have to hark back a month to remember that they obviously managed it because they won and now here they are in the final.
It is however very pleasing to see four massive clubs in the semi-final stages. As a neutral (I am usually a neutral by the semi-finals of any competition) I’m over the ‘shocks’ stage of the competition and much prefer them to be saved for the earlier rounds, to give us some competitive final stages. Nobody wants to see Man Utd vs Millwall again, and even fewer people want to see Portsmouth vs Cardiff. Just a hunch. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the matches.
Saturday at 5.15pm will see Chelsea and Tottenham go at it, with the BBC cameras beaming the action back to your front room. Again, I always feel there’s a bit more prestige when the Beeb televises a game, though admittedly that prestige drifts away when Trevor Sinclair and Robbie Savage are stood at pitch side in a woolly hat pretending they know loads about Lincoln City. I digress. It’s a clash between the Premier League’s top two, and although many (probably most Tottenham fans) would wish this was a league fixture, it doesn’t work like that, so you’ll just have to put up with it. Spurs have an awful record at Wembley, and that bodes well for next season if they do adopt it as their new home whilst super-mega White Hart Lane is built. That’s another rant brewing by the way.
On to the game itself and Spurs are in irresistible form, whilst Chelsea have been imperious all season but have had a bit of a wobble in recent weeks, inexplicably losing at home to Crystal Palace before last weekend’s humbling at Old Trafford. It’s also worth noting that Tottenham won the last clash between these two sides, which could give them a psychological edge. During that game, Tottenham opted to switch to three at the back to match up with Chelsea. They have the personnel to do it and it was noticeable that they used it for spells in the win over Bournemouth at the weekend, possibly in preparation for bringing it back to the table here. Chelsea meanwhile looked a little short of ideas or a plan B at Old Trafford, with Hazard marked out of the game while his teammates were found to be lacking. Once Rojo was in Costa’s head, he was worse than useless and the victory was pretty routine in the end. It’s hard to predict but fortunately, I don’t have to. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the two best teams in the country going at it, and remember, there has to be a winner on the day.
BT Sport’s offering is smack bang in the middle of Super Sunday, as Manchester City and Arsenal go head to head at 3 pm. It’s a match where the excitement is diluted for me seeing as they met just a few weeks ago, so we can only hope this fixture throws up a similar number of goals. Let’s be honest, both managers need this, which can only be good news. I would argue that Wenger needs it far more than Guardiola, with Arsenal’s top 4 chances hanging by a thread at the minute, whilst Guardiola has never failed to win a trophy in a season and won’t want to start that trend now. Arsenal changed it up on Monday to this season’s hot formation, the 3-4-3, but I don’t think it’ll be a permanent deal for a man notoriously stubborn in his approach. I also don’t think it worked all that well, given that Negredo was playing against three centre-halves and still managed to allude them all (mainly Koscielny) from a fairly routine ball into the box. To me, it seems City’s weaknesses are the fullbacks, so on that logic, I’d expect Wenger to revert to type, but he’s a new man all of a sudden. He doesn’t have Sergio Aguero though, who is on a tremendous run of form, and I’d expect that to continue here. If Kompany is playing, and there’s no reason why he won’t be, I think City will win. It should be another belter of a game though!
Another preview in the bag then and I’m willing to look past these games being played at Wembley and just sit back and enjoy them. That is the glory of being a neutral in these situations. If you are a fan of these four teams, make sure you enjoy it whatever the score, as you just never know when you’ll be back at Wembley. Unless your Spurs, in which case do what you want as you’ll be there at least another 25 times next season. Grumble.