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FA Cup semi-final preview

April 10, 2010

Injuries is the word of the day as Aston Villa, Chelsea, Portsmouth and Tottenham gear up for their respective FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley this weekend. Spurs are sweating on the fitness of influential centre-half Michael Dawson for their match with Portsmouth, while Martin O’Neill will have to make late calls on midfielder James Milner and central defender Richard Dunne for the re-run of Villa’s 7-1 drubbing at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago.

Despite that result, Martin O’Neill insists his men are ready to set the record straight against Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who are on course to do the double having taken a 2 point lead over Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. “Those players will want to make sure they don’t end up getting another result like that”, O’Neill told “It won’t be 7-1, that’s for sure, it’s going to be a close game”.

Villa have had a superb season under O’Neill but there is speculation that he will leave at the end of the season, with bigger names calling. Having narrowly lost out to Manchester United in the Carling Cup final back in February, O’Neill will be eager for victory this time. If Villa are to overcome the League leaders then Richard Dunne will need to be fit, as will Milner, and they’ll need every ounce of Emile Heskey to stay on his feet against Terry and co. Stopping Drogba and limiting Lampard will also be key, and the running of Ashley Young on the left side may play an influential role.

As for Chelsea, Ancelotti’s season can go either way. If they do end up as League Champions, as well as win the FA Cup, he’ll be deemed a huge success. However, if United pip them to the post and Villa complete their revenge mission on Saturday afternoon, questions over his future will inevitably be asked. It’s a thin line managing Chelsea these days, and Ancelotti will know just what is expected of him.

Daniel Sturridge is Chelsea’s leading goalscorer in this year’s competition, but he most probably won’t start. There is also doubt over who will start in goal, with Chelsea’s Cup ‘keeper Hilario struggling with a groin strain, with Branislav Ivanovic likely to return to the side after shaking off a knee injury.

Prepare for a close game between two counter-attacking sides, with perhaps extra time and penalties to follow.

George’s prediction: Aston Villa 1-1 Chelsea – Chelsea to win on penalties

Tottenham go into their match with Portsmouth as strong favourites, but with nothing for Pompey to play for in the League they’ll be determined to go all the way in the Cup. Harry Redknapp has also stated that his side will be going all out to win the FA Cup, with their chances of finishing in 4th place not at all a certainty.

Spurs will be without Aaron Lennon, Vedran Corluka, Tom Huddlestone, Ledley King, Jermaine Jenas and Jonathan Woodgate for the tie, and there are also doubts over Michael Dawson’s fitness. 20-year old midfielder Jake Livermore is in line for a start, but not in his usual position. With Woodgate and King both out, and with Dawson unlikely to start, Livermore may be forced to partner Sebastien Bassong in the heart of the defence. Younes Kaboul and Kyle Walker will play no part either, as they are both cup-tied.

Avram Grant has no fresh injury worries ahead of Sunday’s game, with the only problems remaining off the field with new contract rows brewing. Grant will be fully focussed on on-the-field matters however, and one has to feel that if his side are to come away with a win, Aruna Dindane and Frederic Piquionne will be key. Experienced goalkeeper David James knows a thing or two about Cup ties as well, so a good performance from him is a necessity.

Spurs will look for the aerial prowess of former Pompey man Peter Crouch, while Jermain Defoe will look to reignite his early season spark. For me, it will only go one way, and that’s the way of Redknapp’s men. Ideally, they’d look for an early goal and not let Portsmouth settle in the game. Avram Grant will want a solid start, to not concede, and try and hit Spurs on the counter with the pace of the likes of Belhadj and Dindane.

George’s prediction: Tottenham 2-0 Portsmouth

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