The FA Cup is a stranger beast than normal this year – in most cases, a semi-final line up where only one of the five is counted among the traditional big boys, and a quarter-final where both Arsenal and Chelsea were comprehensively beaten, would make for a major shock that would be talked about for days.
Yet in this season, of all seasons, it seems highly appropriate – a League Cup final featuring Manchester City beating Liverpool was an anomaly in a year the proletariat of the Premier League seem set to go all 1917 on the English game’s bourgeoisie.
Who are the contenders? Watford are the first to consider.
I’m too lazy to do the research properly, I don’t have a team to trawl the stats for me, and my girlfriend thinks football is stupid, so I have not checked this, but I would be astonished if Watford were not the only side in history to have made the semi-finals in two consecutive seasons they have been in the top flight, when those seasons are themselves not consecutive.
Basically, Aidy Boothroyd’s Watford made the semis in 2007, losing 4-1 to Manchester United, and were relegated the same year – back in the Prem this campaign for the first time since, they have made the final four again – which I find quite interesting.
The ‘Orns stunned a feckless Arsenal to end their two-year hold on the old trophy, end their hopes of a first FA Cup hat-trick since the 1880s, and – whisper it quietly – begin the end of the Wenger reign.
Their opponents will be Crystal Palace, last seen in the semis in 1995, and most famously seen in the semis in 1990 when an inspired Ian Wright performance saw them beat Liverpool 4-3 – a win that scuppered the Reds’ hopes of getting back on their dominant 80s trophy trail.
As a conflict between London’s two least glamourous top tier natives, it will be a highly competitive and charged Wembley encounter. My money is on Watford, with their strikers who can actually score and their lack of a relegation fight to consider.
As for the other semi, West Ham and Manchester United will still have to replay to decide who goes under the arch – and I think the Hammers may well have planned for that.
This means they get one final game in the FA Cup at Upton Park – an evening replay against United.
This would explain the slightly anaemic goalless draw the first game at Old Trafford was petering out into, until Dmitri Payet almost ruined it all with his scorching free-kick – how inconsiderate.
No wonder just a couple of minutes later United were able to score, and that no-one really complained that West Ham keeper Darren Randolph was clearly being fouled in the build-up.
How’s that for a conspiracy theory! Anyway, I think United will spoil the party and reach Wembley. LVG can only keep the wolf from the door with European qualification and a trophy, and the FA Cup provides an option for both.
Yet I do not think they will get past the semis. They will be stopped by the team who I have my money on to win the whole thing – Everton.
They have been the definition of inconsistency this season, yet in the isolation chamber of cup games they have been excellent, coming within a whisker of the League Cup final, and beating a strong Chelsea side armed with Diego Costa’s teeth.
They have a manager who has won it before (Martinez). They have a striker who can put away half-chances at a moment’s notice (Lukaku). They have a midfield spark who can create something of nothing (Barkley). They have fans starved of trophies since Paul Rideout’s shock 1995 final winner (er, Everton fans).
I’m backing the blues to beat Watford in the final, and so should you. Although if you lose money, I am in no way culpable, and no, you don’t know where I live.