I was completely seduced by last year’s FA Cup.
Barnsley and Cardiff City charged toward the final in a gripping giant-killing warpath. They toppled Liverpool, Chelsea and Middlesbrough in their wake. (Boro were still a mid-table Premier League side, so their undoing was still a feat.) While only Cardiff made it to the end before going down to Pompey, it was still the ultimate thrill ride. There’s nothing like seeing all those Championship supporters screaming from the stands, willing their side into the horizon of the unlikely. Every move forward was a miracle. Every minute still alive held the tension of watching a drunk diffuse a nuclear bomb on a high-wire.
So in the shadow of that campaign, I didn’t tune into this year’s cup run nearly as closely.
But Everton did knock Manchester United out of it. Even on PKs, that was an impressive feat. It’s time for me to tune in.
Now, Everton go up against Chelsea. Despite the Blues’ problems, their roster still looks like somebody’s dream team from the back page of FourFourTwo. If money’s no object and you can have anyone in the world, Mr Abramovich, who would you pick…
David Moyes has a formidable enough side considering the net he’s spent on players is only 1m more than what Chelsea spent on Didier Drogba. His star striker Yakubu cost 11m. His star playmaker Arteta cost 2m. He has nothing close to the resources of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal, yet he manages to stay on their heels. Once again, he’s delivered Everton to a fifth place finish in the league, and in the fall, he’ll kick off his third consecutive European campaign.
Since he won’t be winning the Premier League any time soon, it would be nice to see Moyes collect the world’s oldest Football trophy to honor all he’s done with Everton.
Unfortunately, he’s facing a big side who has nothing else to play for and everything to prove.
At the beginning of the Premier League campaign, Chelsea looked absolutely invincible. They didn’t record their first loss until the end of October when Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso ended their 86-match unbeaten Premier League home streak with the only goal of the match. Chelsea only had two league draws before that. Later, they’d slump a little and manager Luis Filipe Scolari would be on his way. All big sides can hit a rut.
But David Moyes must have been really cringing when Andres Iniesta fired the ball past Petr Cech at Stamford Bridge. With the Premier League title already out of reach for Chelsea, Moyes knew Barcelona had just funneled all of Chelsea’s ambitions and frustrations to one end point: Wembley. Abramovich’s Dream Team will focus all their gunpowder on tomorrow’s live or die 90 minutes. Guus Hiddink wants something to show for his spell in charge of the London bohemoths.
But Everton can do this. The strength of the big clubs lies in their ability to play well over the long stretch of any given campaign. Chelsea’s depth makes for a top four side who can compete in multiple competitions, but on the day, anyone can take the prize. If Everton can come out and stand their ground as they did against Liverpool and United, they can win.
Chelsea are the sure favorites. But David Moyes’s bargain-bin side can unseat Abramovich’s billion pound club. That’s the beauty of those Wembley nights… Everton may not be a minnow like Barnsley, but a win tomorrow would still be a giant-killing in light of transfer spending.
The romantic in me would like to see them pull it off.