It’s the big one. Although it is eclipsed by Rome and the events of Wednesday, the FA Cup final is still, in its own right, a colossal event. It’s a goodbye for Golden Guus, a chance for silverware, and above all, a very special day out at Wembley. Standing in the way of a sweet end to a tumultuous season for the Blues are the perennial nearly men of the Premier League Everton, who often finish high but never enough to challenge the ’big four’. Bossed by the League Managers Association’s Manager of the Year David Moyes, the Toffees will be the neutral fans’ tip for the cup, and a win for the Scot would represent proof for his recent achievement – the third time he has secured the honour. But even Moyes’ reputation is dwarfed by that of Hiddink, and the Dutchman will be desperate to sign off his brief spell at Chelsea with a trophy.
As Chelsea struggled past lower league Southend United in the third round, eventually beating the Shrimpers following a replay, Everton squeezed past Macclesfield Town. It was the Toffees’ turn to draw next however, as they played out a 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Liverpool. A day before that encounter, Chelsea breezed past Ipswich Town courtesy of a Frank Lampard master class. Everton also secured their place in the next round with a battling display against Liverpool which yielded a late 1-0 win, the goal from Dan Gosling coming in Extra-Time as the ITV director bizarrely went for a mid-game advertisement break.
3-1 wins over Watford and Aston Villa for Chelsea and Everton respectively set up quarter-final ties against Coventry and Middlesbrough which both sides negotiated comfortably.
The semi-finals meant a premature trip to Wembley for both sides, and Chelsea kicked off the last four action with a clash against Arsenal. Although the Gunners took the lead, Chelsea proved themselves too strong for the Gunners, with Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba turning the game on its head with two well-taken goals. The next day, on an already poor pitch which had taken a battering from the London sides, Everton were unable to find a way past a weakened Manchester United side, and the game went to penalties. Phil Jagielka eventually converted the winner, and sent his side back to Wembley.
Which brings us to Saturday’s final. 0-0’s have been the flavour of the season for the two sides, with scoreless draws at Goodison Park and the Bridge not exactly whetting the appetite for the Wembley showpiece. However, the old cliché is that anything can happen on cup final day, and most of the time, the clichés are right.
We should be wary of Everton’s squad. Although they don’t have the strength in numbers which we do, they have players capable of winning matches almost single-handedly. Tim Howard is still an underrated ‘keeper, Jagielka has won plaudits all season for his solid performances, Tim Cahill is Tim Cahill, and Marouane Fellaini has shown that he’s more than just a comedy haircut with some commanding displays in midfield and indeed, up front during Everton’s injury crisis.
Everton are likely to start with just one up front, with Louis Saha given the striker’s role. Jo – on loan from Manchester City – is cup-tied, leaving just young James Vaughan and the even younger Jose Baxter as back-up striking options. Phil Neville and Stephen Pienaar are fit to start following recent injury troubles.
Chelsea have been boosted by the news that our undisputed player of the season Frank Lampard is available to start despite sitting out his first league game of the campaign in last weekend’s end of term win over Sunderland. Hiddink’s favoured first XI seems easy to guess, but all eyes will still be on the team sheets at about 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.
Tickets or no tickets, enjoy the final anyway. Although it marks the end of the season, it could be the most important game of the campaign. Another cup win would be the perfect remedy for what will be a long, football-less summer. It’s always nice to go out with a bang eh Guus?