ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT & Opta, available now – to preview this weekend's FA Cup semi-finals...
Liverpool vs Everton, Sat 12:30Matches between these two are renowned for being undisciplined and seeing plenty of cards, but the most recent Merseyside derby – Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Anfield in March – was a surprisingly tame affair, with only 15 fouls and a single yellow card.
Howard Webb will take charge of the game on Saturday afternoon – and he’s only shown one red card in his last 34 league games, so this may not be the usual bloodbath.
In fact, this might be a cagier than expected – there’s a combination of an early kick-off time (which often means a quiet atmosphere), no side having home advantage, and neither being strong favourites with the impetus to take the game to the opposition. Liverpool are lacking confidence, Everton are generally a reactive side – we could be in for a slow game.
New Everton signing Nikica Jelavic has proved a hit so far at Goodison Park, and it’s notable that his goals have all come in a very similar fashion – meeting a pull-back from the wing, then steering the ball into the far corner. His two goals last week against Norwich, compared with his debut goal against Tottenham, demonstrate that pattern well.
Jelavic will be up against one of the best centre-back partnerships in the country, Marin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. They may be more vulnerable to Jelavic’s movement towards the near post, rather than his aerial threat.
But arguably the key to stopping this approach is to prevent Everton getting runners into the channels to play the cut-back in the first place. The absence of cup-tied Steven Pienaar helps Liverpool in this respect, but Leon Osman will be a very dangerous player, likely to make unchecked runs through the defence and into pockets of space either side of the box. When the ball gets into those zones, watch for Jelavic’s runs towards the ball.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea, Sun 18:00Where will Gareth Bale play this week? The Welshman has varied his positioning in recent matches, either stationed in his traditional role out on the left, or moving inside and playing more of a free role. In big matches, he’s generally stayed out on the left, and we can probably expect him to see him there in this match. With Branislav Ivanovic suspended, Roberto Di Matteo will pick Jose Bosingwa at right-back. He’s likely to stick tight and prevent Bale running with the ball.
Bale’s previous appearance against Chelsea was interesting – he stayed wide on the left, and generally received the ball from very short passes. But he struggled to get up to full speed on the run, and despite staying in a wide position, only attempted one cross all game. That sums up the confusion about his job when switching between two roles – if deployed as a wide player here, he’ll need to centre the ball more frequently.
With Juan Mata suffering a dip in form over the past few months, Frank Lampard deployed in a more restricted role under Roberto Di Matteo and Florent Malouda out of favour, the man who has created more chances than any other player for Chelsea in the last two games has been Raul Meireles.
The Portuguese midfielder assisted Branislav Ivanovic’s goal against Wigan with a good pass (even if Ivanovic was clearly offside) and then repeatedly teed up teammates for strikes from just outside the penalty box in the draw at Fulham on Monday evening.
Tottenham can be too open in front of their defence – Luka Modric is hardly a holding midfielder, and his attacking tendencies leave the dirty work to Scott Parker. The England midfielder has looked tired in recent weeks and is struggling to cover as much ground as he was in the first half of the season, so Chelsea may be able to work the ball into some long-range shooting positions on Sunday evening.
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