Paul Smith

Football’s most famous knockout competition reaches the semi-final stage as four Premier League sides head to Wembley to battle it out for a place in this year’s FA Cup final. Chelsea are the only representatives from England’s "Big Four" and as a result this season’s tournament remains wide open.

Aston Villa vs Chelsea
(Saturday, 10th April 2010, 17:00 UK Time)

The current holders Chelsea take on an Aston Villa side seeking the club’s first FA Cup triumph since 1957. The Villains last visit to Wembley in this competition was against Chelsea in the 2000 final: A match the London side won 1-0.

The Blues’ recent Champions League exit at the hands of Internazionale seems to have galvanized the London club and they now appear determined to secure a domestic FA Cup and Premier League double. Chelsea are in fantastic form, having won their last three Premier League fixtures, scoring 14 goals and conceding just twice. Half of those 14 goals were scored against Villa in a humiliating 7-1 defeat just two weeks ago, a result that should give Chelsea the psychological edge as the two sides prepare for the semi-final.

This is the Birmingham side’s second visit to Wembley this season after they contested the League Cup final against Manchester United just six weeks ago, a game they lost 2-1. Fresh in the memory will be the 7-1 thrashing handed out to them by their semi-final opponents a fortnight ago, and so Martin O’Neill will be determined to show Chelsea that his team is a much better side than they demonstrated in their recent Premier League clash. The Villains will draw confidence from their home Premier League victory over Chelsea during the first half of the season.

Chelsea will head into the game as favourites and they know they have the beating of their top flight rivals, but Ancelotti will need to ensure complacency doesn’t become a factor. Despite the 7-1 defeat against the Londoners, Villa are having a fantastic season. The Midlands side can be dangerous opponents with their ability to soak up pressure and break quickly in numbers. This season’s Premier League victories over Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea demonstrate Villa’s ability to compete with the top sides.  

This should be a fantastic match with Villa having a point to prove and Chelsea playing in red-hot form. The Blues have match winners all over the pitch with the likes of Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. It will be interesting to see how Villa line up. Martin O’Neill prefers 4-4-2 but he may opt to play Fabian Delph as an extra man in midfield and employ Gabby Agbonlahor as a lone striker.


Tottenham Hotspur vs Portsmouth
(Sunday, 11th April, 16:00 UK Time)

Harry Redknapp leads his Spurs side out against the team he led to FA Cup glory just two seasons ago in this semi-final clash. The former West Ham manager has gone from hero to zero in the eyes of many Pompey supporters since then after he opted to join Tottenham just six months after the Hampshire side’s cup triumph.

The White Hart Lane outfit have enjoyed an excellent season as they compete for a Champions League qualification place in the Premier League as well as putting together their FA Cup run. Tottenham’s achievement in reaching the FA Cup’s final four demonstrates the progress made under Redknapp’s management. Spurs’ recent form has been impressive with a run of five Premier League wins stretching back to mid-February before their 3-1 reverse away at Sunderland last weekend, a winning run that included a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth just two weeks ago. 

Pompey have experienced the most extraordinary season which seems destined to end with the club’s relegation to the Championship. The south coast side’s campaign has been dominated by off the field problems with issues surrounding the club’s ownership eventually leading to Portsmouth going into administration. With the club in turmoil Pompey’s progress to the last four of the FA Cup is quite remarkable and much credit must go to manager Avram Grant and his players for continuing to compete during a time where they weren’t being paid and the immediate future of the club appeared uncertain.

Both sides are currently experiencing an injury crisis as a long hard season takes its toll: Portsmouth currently have 10 first team players out injured while Spurs have eight. Based on league form Tottenham will be comfortable favourites but this is knockout football and anything can happen. With the club’s relegation to the Championship all but confirmed the FA Cup is the only thing Portsmouth have left to fight for which will make them dangerous opponents. 

Throughout time the FA Cup has a habit of producing an unlikely story and this season Portsmouth may just have written the script. If the Hampshire side can make it to a second FA Cup final in three years it will be an astonishing story taking into consideration the problems the club has faced.

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