If the all-Merseyside clash seemed to be grabbing all the headlines ahead of the weekend’s FA Cup games at Wembley, then it needs to be stressed that a grudge match of similar proportions promises just as many fireworks in Sunday’s second semi-final.
Featuring two superior sides in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, the all-London semi-final is as intriguing as it should be entertaining.
With both sides eyeing up other prizes as well as having to put up with speculation about their managers, an already fierce rivalry has added ingredients of interest.
The Blues’ interim boss Roberto di Matteo has a legendary pedigree in the FA Cup as a player, having scored two Wembley final goals as Chelsea won the trophy in 1997 and 2000.
But he comes into this semi-final in a peculiar situation, unsure of his long-term position and with two of Chelsea’s more pressing season-long objectives to concentrate on: Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona and the fight to finish in the top four and qualify for the competition next season.
Similarly, Harry Redknapp has had to contend with the conceived wisdom that speculation over him taking the England job has contributed to Tottenham’s poor run of form.
I expect Di Matteo to make changes with Barcelona in midweek in mind. He’s already made a fuss about kicking off on Sunday and tried to get the match switched to Friday night – so it is clear where his priorities lie.
No doubt media-friendly ‘Arry will eventually trot out the excuse himself if Spurs don’t finish in the top four, but he set out his stall from the start of the season that Champions League qualification was the be all and end all for his side.
So the reality is the FA Cup is a distant second (or third) priority for both clubs, but will that affect Sunday’s match? Not once the players take to the pitch, but how many changes both managers make will be interesting to see, especially in the case of Di Matteo, who has Lionel Messi, Xavi et al looming large in midweek.
The Champions League semi-final on Wednesday is one of a couple of reasons why I have a fancy for Tottenham at Wembley, and the 8/5 on a Spurs win in 90 minutes is my advice. Chelsea are priced at 39/20, with the draw at 9/4.
I expect Di Matteo to make changes with Wednesday in mind. He’s already made a fuss about kicking off on Sunday and tried to get the match switched to Friday night – so it is clear where his priorities lie. But I also think that this a long, long way short of a vintage Chelsea side and they are there for the taking.
Given the season they have endured under Andre Villas-Boas, for the club to find themselves in two semi-finals is a surprise, because they aren’t that good. Even now in supposed good form under Di Matteo, it is my opinion that Chelsea are still flattering to deceive.
Since beating Leicester City in the last round, Chelsea have underwhelmed in all their matches: a draw at home to Spurs and a defeat at Manchester City, but also in victory against Benfica (twice), Wigan and Aston Villa. They were pedestrian in drawing at Fulham last time out and at the moment Chelsea are not playing as well as their results suggest.
I understand that Spurs have been in poor form and that the display in losing to Norwich on Easter Monday was desperately bad, but I still feel that Tottenham are a better team than Chelsea.
They showed that in the 0-0 draw between the sides last month and they still have players who can hurt the Blues, especially on the spacious Wembley turf.
With the pressure for league points lifted, I think Spurs can book a return to Wembley against a Chelsea side with other things on their mind.
Recommended bet: Tottenham Hotspur to win in 90 minutes @ 8/5
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