January 28, 2011

A truly heavyweight round

Posted by Jon Champion on 28/01/2011

Louis Saha celebrates his record-breaking goal against Chelsea © Getty Images

Whatever happens this weekend in the FA Cup, it will have to go some to outdo the drama, incident and upsets of an outstanding Third Round. Events at Stevenage and Crawley will live long in my memory, but the emphasis over the next few days is on heavyweight rather than catchweight contests.

I am really looking forward to Saturday lunchtime’s reprise of the 2009 final between Everton and Chelsea, which you can enjoy live on ESPN. Goodison Park may be a relic of a bygone age, but there are few better venues for a big match.

When the sides met at Wembley two seasons ago, Louis Saha scored the fastest ever goal in an FA Cup final, expunging the name of Bob Chatt from the record books with his intervention after a mere 25 seconds. Contrary to popular belief, Roberto di Matteo’s 42-second effort in a previous Chelsea final appearance was only a modern mark; Chatt’s record had stood since 1895!

Despite Saha’s moment of history, it was Chelsea who emerged victorious in 2009 thanks to Didier Drogba - who has scored in all three of his finals - and Frank Lampard.

Anyone who saw Chelsea score four at Bolton on Monday night would have gained the distinct impression that they are finding their feet again after an awful run. For their part, Everton made their usual sluggish start to the season and find themselves below mid-table in the Premier League.

I feel for David Moyes because of the severe financial restrictions placed upon him. Steven Pienaar and Yakubu have both departed recently and, as yet, there have been no replacements. Tim Cahill’s participation in the Asian Cup has left a huge gap. Even so, Everton at Goodison is a daunting proposition for any opponent. I can see a replay being necessary.

My other FA Cup tie this weekend is Sunday afternoon’s meeting of Fulham and Tottenham. Fulham were unfortunate to lose to a freakish own goal at Anfield on Wednesday and have been showing better form of late.

However, it is the Cottagers’ misfortune to have been drawn against a talented team whose best hope of silverware probably lies in this competition. Tottenham have three plates to spin and, given the complexities of Europe and the Premier League, the one marked FA Cup is the easiest to keep up in the air.

They have a first-team squad of 34 players, meaning two and sometimes three front-line options for every position. What a contrast to Fulham, for whom finding 18 names to put on a teamsheet can sometimes be a challenge.

Having said that, this is the FA Cup. And as the competition has shown so gloriously and so often already this season, those who believe form or pedigree are important are those who end up cursing the intervention of forces unrelated to logic.


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