Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton go head-to-head on Saturday at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, in a massively important match for both sides. Kenny Dalglish will be eager to replicate the team’s heroics in the Carling Cup and draw attention away from under-par league form, whilst David Moyes knows that he is 180 minutes away from lifting his first trophy for the Goodison Park club.
Liverpool ended a terrible run of six defeats from seven games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn on Tuesday night, with Andy Carroll heading the injury-time winner. Despite inconsistency in the league this campaign, the Reds have been more determined in the cup competitions, and have eliminated both Manchester clubs and Chelsea from the FA or Carling Cup this term.
Triumph in the Carling Cup has only papered over the cracks of a mediocre campaign for the Anfield outfit, with director of football Damien Comolli given the axe earlier in the week. King Kenny is now under pressure to deliver, and with ambitious American owners eager for success, a defeat to bitter rivals Everton would put a question mark over the Scottish manager’s future. With Liverpool also behind their cross-town neighbours in the Premier League standings, Reds fans are becoming impatient and frustrated, with football transfer speculation predicting a summer upheaval at Anfield.
Everton meanwhile have had a strong second half of the season, and David Moyes’ men have looked like a dangerous and difficult opponent since the turn of the year. The Toffees are up to seventh place in the league, and have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham over the last three months. Comprehensive victories over Sunderland both in the league and the last round of the cup will see Everton enter the fixture with confidence. However two derby defeats to Liverpool this term will stick in the memory, and spur Moyes’ men on.
A clever January transfer window has been a key factor in the club’s rejuvenation, with the additions of Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, temporarily Landon Donovan and especially Nikica Jelavic adding quality to an already able squad. The Croatian striker in particular has impressed, and the travelling Goodison Park fans will pray the ex-Rangers forward can inspire his team to victory on Saturday. Everton have not lifted a trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1995, with a solitary Paul Rideout goal ensuring a 1-0 win over Manchester United.
A number of factors will be important in deciding the outcome of the fixture, with key personal battles all over the pitch. With Pepe Reina and Doni both unavailable, Brad Jones will start in goal for Liverpool, with their opponents sure to test the inexperienced stopper early on. The clash between England colleagues Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson could also play a part in the result, as both full-backs play an important role going forward for their sides.
In any Merseyside derby there will be passion, and the midfield battle between Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing, Darron Gibson and Marouane Felliani will dictate possession. Finally, Luis Suarez and Nikica Jelavic will look to build on promising individual campaigns, and pose the biggest threat to goal.