The FA Cup semi-finals are here. Ready yourselves for a whole weekend of people being angry about the location of the matches, talk of the ‘health’ of the FA Cup as if it were a living organism, and some sizzling hot takes on VAR.
We wouldn’t change it for the world though, would we?
Okay, we might. Either way, the cup semi-finals are happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. The FA Cup is still fun, and on this occasion, we’ve got four teams that make up some surprisingly fascinating matches.
Manchester United vs TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
It isn’t overplaying it to state that this match is season-defining for these two clubs. They have already secured a top four finish – which was probably the bare minimum in August – but have exited the Champions League and League Cup without even a day out to Wembley.
A trip to Wembley doesn’t actually matter to Spurs this year, seeing as it is their temporary home, but you get the general idea.
Jose Mourinho wants to be judged on trophies. He manufactured a ‘treble’ last season, but risks ending this season with nothing. The abysmal display against rock-bottom West Bromwich Albion last weekend doesn’t exactly set them up well for this.
Spurs, on the other hand, will have their dusty trophy cabinet thrown in their faces until they win something. This is important to shut that up as much as anything.
The home team prevailed in each of the meetings during the Premier League season. Spurs had the more recent victory, cruising to a 2-0 victory at Wembley in January. The neutrals will be concerned that this match sees Mourinho revert to his ultra-defensive ways.
Tottenham should dominate the ball. Even after the success of a more proactive game plan in the second half against Manchester City, I expect United to sit deep and play on the break.
The contest between Mousa Dembele and Paul Pogba in central midfield will be pivotal. Pogba needs to dominate for United to have any control over the match.
I think Spurs will book themselves a place in the final. Their team has balance that United often lack, and the range of attacking options to cause their creaky defence troubles.
TIP: Tottenham to win @ 6/5
CHELSEA vs SOUTHAMPTON
This is a rematch of last weekend’s meeting at St Mary’s. That ridiculous match will influence the preparation for this one. Chelsea were abysmal in the first half, Southampton even worse in the second.
Mark Hughes’ side have leaked goals since his appointment but can take confidence from outplaying the Blues in the first 45. Saints, however, are more concerned with their Premier League status than the FA Cup.
The thrill of knockout football might have been a nice distraction, but we could see Hughes rotate a bit after playing on Thursday evening. Chelsea, in contrast, are pinning their whole season on this, albeit as consolation rather than saviour.
Antonio Conte has struggled throughout 2018. The last few months have been textbook Chelsea meltdown, in fact, and elimination here would be in-keeping with the demise.
Chelsea will line-up in the same way they have all season, however, and will likely be dependent on a moment of individual brilliance from Eden Hazard or Willian.
Olivier Giroud could be key but he may start on the bench again. The Frenchman is 3/1 to score the last goal of the match.
This has the potential to be a far better match than it looked like it would be when the draw was made. Chelsea have only declined since then, and Hughes has made Southampton exciting, even if their results are still poor.
I can’t rule out an ‘upset’ here. With the way Chelsea have been playing of late, it might not even be that much of a surprise. Individual quality may make the difference for the Blues, but I fancy another goalfest between these two.
TIP: Over 2.5 goals @ 4/5
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*