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Cup semis share the stage

Two all-Premiership FA Cup clashes over the weekend will no doubt capture the imagination of football fans, while some league battles also promise action


Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp faces his former team Portsmouth in the FA Cup. AFP
Chelsea’s Florent Malouda has been on top form and should star against Aston Villa Saturday. AFP

After an eventful midweek in Europe, the Premiership once again has to share the limelight with the FA Cup, with semifinals as the main attraction alongside some extremely important fixtures at both ends of the league table.

Two weeks ago, Aston Villa got played off the park at Stamford Bridge and came away with their tail between their legs from a 7-1 drubbing in Martin O’Neil’s biggest ever defeat as the Villa boss.

Chelsea are unlikely to score seven again, but they must be brimming with confidence especially after they defeated the champions on their own patch last week. Drogba didn’t play in either fixture, and he is the only tough decision that Ancelotti faces.

Lampard and Malouda have come into form at the right time, and they pose the biggest threat to Villa’s back four as Anelka seems to have turned into a provider rather than a goal getter.

You could argue that each game should be taken on merit and the FA Cup’s allure is down to its shock upsets, but you’d have to be a brave man to bet against Chelsea. Villa do have great delivery from Young, Downing and Milner, but I think it’s unlikely they’ll get enough of the ball to hurt Chelsea. The Blue’s recent love affair with the FA Cup should continue come Saturday.

Portsmouth as a football club are in tatters, but their inevitable relegation should unite the team with the FA Cup, offering their only chance of temporary bliss. It will place all the players in the shop window just before the unavoidable mass exodus.

Arguably Pompey’s best player this season has been Jamie O’Hare, on loan from their Cup opponents. With his absence and a crippling injury list to boot, it’s a mammoth challenge for them to defeat Tottenham.

Redknapp might still have a lot of affection for his former club that brought him his only major trophy as a manager, but when the whistle blows Sunday, he’ll be demanding a comprehensive victory to show that Spurs are back in the big time. Tottenham also have a jam packed treatment room, but their superiority will be evident simply by looking at the depth of their squad.

Defoe and Crouch should start and torment the fans that once adored them. With Palacios driving forward from midfield along with the likes of Modric, Spurs should cover up the cracks that look set to halt their quest for fourth spot to send them comfortably into their first FA Cup final since 1991.

Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard (front) is finally starting to play something close to his best football. AFP
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is trying to return to full fitness off an ankle injury. AFP

West Ham rallied to get a vital point against Everton last weekend and prevented a seventh straight defeat. They host Sunderland in a game that Zola will demand all three points from.

Sunderland have picked up form, but the Hammers should have the greater incentive, and one would think the Upton Park home support will be their twelfth man. The heat is truly on West Ham, with Upson and Parker needing to use their experience to pull off a crucial victory.

Hull are desperate to overtake West Ham and they couldn’t have asked for an easier fixture than Burnley at home. If Ian Dowie’s players can’t win on Saturday, then they might as well bring out the white flag. Jimmy Bullard is the Tigers only true catalyst but Burnley are in such poor form, I doubt it will take much for Hull to pile more pressure on the Hammers.

Most of the talk before Manchester United travel to Blackburn will inevitably be surrounding Wayne Rooney’s fitness, but Sir Alex’s team shouldn’t need to count on one player if they want to regain top spot. Blackburn are industrial and a tough nut to crack at Ewood Park and manager Sam Allardyce will like nothing more than to hinder United’s title chase.

Despite Rooney’s spectacular season, with him or without him there is a huge gulf in class between both sides. Nani and Valencia should offer the width, and with Fletcher and Park pushing United forward, it should be irrelevant who plays up top as Man United should move back on top of the Premiership Sunday night.

Benitez couldn’t possibly be under any more scrutiny and pressure right now. Unless Torres is injured, he wouldn’t dare substitute him because the discontent from the Kop would be deafening. Fulham will come to Anfield and be as disciplined as normal. You never get an easy three points against a Roy Hodgson side, but fatigue must surely be a factor after another European adventure.

Gerrard showed glimpses of his old self against Birmingham last Sunday, and he’ll be pivotal for Liverpool to ultimately gain all three points, and look to step up their bid for a Champions League place.

Birmingham will look to frustrate an expectant crowd as they visit the City of Manchester Stadium. Mancini won’t expect the Blue’s to fold like Burnley did last weekend.

Man City come into this game as firm favourites, but will the pressure be all too much? Bellamy, Tevez and Adebayor seem to have struck up a good understanding, and their movement will be key to dismantling a rigid 4-4-2 that McLeish has so proudly assembled. It won’t be easy for Mancini’s players, but they should have enough in the locker to edger closer to cementing their credentials in Europe next year.

Wolves’ recent form has almost guaranteed their survival. Stoke’s arrival at Molineux is perhaps the least glamorous of the weekend’s matches, with both sides scrapping and battling for their respective coaches and offering their usual 110 percent. No team likes playing against Stoke, and Mick McCarthy’s players know what to expect. Doyle and Fuller are both bang in form for the Potters, and they might be the only outlets that offer any real class in a game that is too hard to call.



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