FA Cup semi-final weekend is upon us, with Wembley Stadium set to throw open its doors to followers of Arsenal, Reading, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Three Premier League teams, one Championship side, and Liverpool’s semifinal will be an all Premier League affair.
The Reds and Villains are poised to do battle on Sunday, with the victors edging one step closer to major silverware, tickertape parades and open-top bus rides. The home of English football will be packed to the rafters for both fixtures, with the Football Association persevering with their money-spinning last-four encounters in an effort to cove the rather excessive costs of constructing the national stadium.
Liverpool, of course, have experienced such an occasion before – with an epic Merseyside derby clash with Everton taken in back in 2012. A contest they would prevail in, before falling at the final hurdle against Chelsea. Villa have also been this far in recent times, with Chelsea – them again – dashing their dreams in a Wembley semi-final some five years ago – a season which also saw the Claret and Blues come unstuck in the League Cup final.
Mixed memories then for the two sides, and those able to cast the mind back a little further may well recall the last time they met one another at this stage in this tournament.
The year was 1996, the stage was Old Trafford, and the final scoreline was 3-0.
Back in the day when there was no need to trek down to London, with Wembley and all of the emotions that it conjures up saved for the final, there were a little short of 40,000 spectators in attendance in Manchester.
It was to be a joyous occasion at the home of their arch-rivals for Liverpool, with two late goals helping them to book a heavyweight showdown with United in the capital.
Robbie Fowler – just 20 years old and still in the process of forging his status as ‘God’ at Anfield – was to be the hero for the Reds as he struck a deadly double.
The first arrived with just 16 minutes on the clock, with Jamie Redknapp – a surprise inclusion upon his return from injury (a story that would become all too familiar for the midfielder) – swinging over a free-kick that invited the England man to notch his 32nd goal of a remarkable campaign.
Fowler then helped to settle any Liverpool nerves four minutes from the end with a sumptuous volley, before Jason McAteer put the icing on the cake in stoppage-time as he converted a Steve McManaman cross.
GIF VIDEO of Fowler’s volley goal against Villa- FA Cup 1996
On that occasion it was Roy Evans versus Brian Little, Fowler and Stan Collymore against Savo Milosevic and Dwight Yorke, while the two sides were skippered by John Barnes and Andy Townsend.
Plenty of pre-pundit talent on show then, with the make-up of the two teams very different this time around. Very importantly, the final of the FA Cup will be on Steven Gerrard’s birthday, and the midfield legend will be leaving Anfield to join the MLS at the end of the season. Liverpool were the first team to unveil their new kit this season, and it felt strange not to see Gerrard in the promo shots.
It remains an intriguing encounter, though, with Liverpool – odds on for any of those fancying a flutter on FA Cup betting markets such as those here at http://www.bet365.com/news/en/betting/football/fa-cup for example. Villa are long shots at 5/1, with Liverpool’s 4/7 odds clearly showing they are expected to win this game at a canter. Overall, Liverpool are 13/8 to win the tournament, ahead of Villa (9/1), but behind Arsenal (4/5), who are pundits’ favs for the crown given the relative easy nature of their semi against Reading, and their current league form. Liverpool will however be determined to go one better than the the infamous ‘Spice Boys’ before them and offer Steven Gerrard a shot at the perfect leaving present on what will his 35th birthday. Meanwhile, Villa will be looking to put the troubles of their recent past behind them and enjoy the best possible opening to Tim Sherwood’s reign.
Both teams haven’t been at the best in the league- Liverpool look likely to miss out on the lucrative Champions League, while Villa aren’t entirely safe from relegation either, so the FA Cup holds great value for them this season.