TOTTENHAM vs CHELSEA
Sunday 6.00pm, ITV1
THE intensifying battle for the top four takes a back seat this weekend as two of the principle rivals for the final Champions League spot go head-to-head at Wembley.
Given Tottenham’s current league form – one win, three draws and four defeats in their last eight outings – Harry Redknapp’s charges will be glad of the distraction, and another chance of reaching a first FA Cup final in more than two decades.
Since Gary Mabbutt lifted the 1991 trophy, they have lost semi-finals to Arsenal twice, Everton, Newcastle and Portsmouth. Despite that, and their troubling league run, Spurs are favourites, albeit marginal ones, to prevail in Sunday evening’s contest. They are 8/5 with Coral to win in normal time and, with the game to be decided on the day, a general price of 5/6 to qualify by any means.
As well as this match, and their own tilt at fourth place, Roberto di Matteo has another spinning plate to handle, in the shape of a Champions League semi-final clash with Barcelona, with the first leg of that tie commencing less than 72 hours after the final whistle at Wembley.
While Redknapp may hope that clouds Chelsea’s focus, there seems little prospect of them not being sufficiently motivated.
The Blues have let their dominance slip a little in this fixture of late, but they have only lost one of the previous six meetings between the sides and they look a far more united outfit under Di Matteo’s guidance. They have lost only once since he took over from Andre Villas-Boas and have won eight of his 11 games.
Chelsea might be relying on an ageing squad, but they have all been here and done it before, so will be more than comfortable on the national stadium’s hallowed turf. However, the teams haven’t been split after 180 minutes of Premier League action this season after a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane in December and a goalless encounter at Stamford Bridge last month.
They were also level after 90 minutes in the 2008 Carling Cup final, before Jonathan Woodgate’s extra-time winner for Spurs, meaning there is plenty of appeal about the draw at 11/5 with Coral. I do, though, expect Chelsea to take their place in the final for the fourth time in six years and fancy a bit of Blue Square’s 12/1 for them to win in extra time as well as the evens available for Chelsea to qualify.
Whatever happens, I don’t see there being many goals. Since Wembley reopened, six of the 10 FA Cup semis played under the famous arch have seen two or fewer scored in 90 minutes. Furthermore, the last eight Spurs-Chelsea matches have recorded a total haul of 16 goals, so a sell of Sporting Index’s prediction of 2.6 for this match is advised.
Draw at 11/5 with Coral
Chelsea to win in extra time at 12/1 with Blue Square
Sell total goals at 2.6 with Sporting Index
LIVERPOOL vs EVERTON
Tomorrow 12.30pm, ESPN
HIS departure might not have an effect on the playing staff, but the timing of Damien Comolli’s Liverpool exit is more than a little odd, coming this close to such a huge game for the club.
The Reds lifted the Carling Cup yet, rather than use that as a launch pad, they have undermined their achievement by allowing their season to go almost completely flat. There is no prospect of Champions League football next season, for a third year in a row, so everyone at the club will be desperate to deliver the FA Cup to Anfield.
Not that any of that will concern David Moyes. Although Everton have lost both league matches to their neighbours this season, the Scot will be convinced that his players have got it in them to deny his fellow countryman, Kenny Dalglish, a place in a second domestic showpiece of the season.
The Toffees are certainly the in-form club. They have leapfrogged their neighbours in the table on the back of taking 10 points from their last four games and have lost just twice in three months. Liverpool's victory at Blackburn was their first in the league since beating Everton in mid-March and only their second in nine top-flight matches. An injury-time header from Andy Carroll earned those three points, so Coral’s offer to refund losing bets on first/last scorer, correct scores and scorecasts if the last goal is scored from a header could be worth keeping in mind, but Everton have a great opportunity to win this game.
Moyes’s men look a good investment at 15/8 with Coral to win in normal time.
Unfortunately for spectators at the games and on TV, this match should set the tone for a low scoring weekend at Wembley as I don’t see either side having the appetite for an attacking approach.
Liverpool will be keen to protect Brad Jones, who is set to make just his second start since joining from Middlesbrough in August 2010 thanks to the suspensions to Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni, while Everton’s success is built on their solid foundations.
Selling goals with Sporting Index, at 2.3, is again the call from a spread betting perspective and both the 1-0 and 2-0 scorelines to Everton look perfectly feasible. They have earned five of 13 league wins by a goal to nil and are on a mini-spree of 2-0 triumphs, with six registered in 2012 already. Have 1-0 as the main bet of the two at 8/1, with a saver on 2/0 at 14/1, both at Coral.
Everton at 15/8 with Coral
Everton to win 1-0 at 8/1 with Coral
Sell total goals at 2.3 with Sporting Index