MATCH PREVIEW: FA Cup Semi-Final
|image via C1 Photography|
Injurires for Liverpool mean they are almost certainly going to be without striker Daniel Sturridge who has a hip problem. Also unavailable for the Reds is Mamadou Sakho whilst Adam Lallana will be subjected to a late fitness test. It is presumed that Mario Balotelli will return after a period of illness and positively both Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel are back from serving suspensions.
For Aston Villa, boss Tim Sherwood has quite a substantial injury list to deal with. The likes of Clark and Sissokho are out whilst Sanchez is serving a ban. Several players will be subjected to late fitness tests for the Midlands side with the influential Agbonlahor being one of the names on that list.
It's a shame Daniel Sturridge will likely miss out on this one as the striker has connections to the Aston area of Birmingham. Sturridge was speaking to BT Sport as part of its coverage of the FA Cup semi-final: "I went to a primary school in the town next to Aston. We played tournaments next to the Villa ground so we would go and look at the stadium."
The last time the two sides met was in January this year. I remember this game distinctly because Borini and Lambert were actually allowed to play and they both scored, see, playing with strikers does work! Haha. The last time Villa beat Liverpool was in September 2014 in a 1-0 win at Anfield. Priot to this Villa beat Liverpool in December 2012, I was actually present that day and remember Benteke being an absolute nightmare, Villa won 3-1 on that day with Gerrard scoring late on for the Reds.
The last time the two sides met in a cup competition was back in December 2002. The league cup tie ended 4-3 with Danny Murphy, Milan Baros and Steven Gerrard on the scoresheet for Liverpool. Murphy's second goal of the game in the 90th minute broke the fans' hearts at Villa Park. The last meeting in the FA Cup for Liverpool and Villa was in 1996... bloody ell I was 7! Haha. The game at Anfield ended 3-0 with Robbie Fowler scoring a brace and Jason McAteer scoring the third.
An FA Cup tie in 1992 between the sides ended 1-0 for Liverpool and another meeting in the competition in 1988 ended 2-0 for the Reds. The sides have met on three more times in the FA Cup with Liverpool winning on every occasion. These sides have stacks of history and despite the records looking good for Liverpool you just never know what could happen at Wembley.
Villa have beaten Blackpool (1-0), Bournemouth (2-1), Leicester (2-1) and local rivals West Brom (2-0) on their route to Wembley. Liverpool on the other hand have beaten Wimbledon (1-2), drew with Bolton 0-0 then won the replay (1-2), beat Crystal Palace (1-2) then drew again this time with Blackburn (0-0) and won the replay (0-1).
The Reds never make things easy for themselves but they always seem to find a way through. Whilst Villa have travelled through the rounds confidently compared to their somewhat sticky league campaign, the Reds have failed to convince in the FA Cup really as narrow wins over what should be beatable opposition has seen them through. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter how you progress in this competition, simply that you do so. Liverpool may have been unconvincing at times but is is extremely hard to bet against them on Sunday.
For me, with the probable absence of Daniel Sturridge I am obviously hoping my main man Balo gets to feature however I am not holding out any hopes. The best I can probably wish for is for him to be on the bench but I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
I'm extremely pleased Martin Skrtel is back as I feel our defence will be called into several dangerous situations. We know Villa have not been fantastic in the league but if that man Benteke starts and I'm assuming he will do, we need to ensure concentration and real determination is present in the defence, no mistakes, not now!
As for the debate as to whether Steven Gerrard should come straight back into the team, I think he should. Not only for the sentimental value and the fact he has the experience in this competition but also because I feel we have been missing some killer balls into the box and to our forwards. I love Coutinho and Sterling, of course I do but they are often wasteful and selfish with the ball. Steven Gerrard will always seek to play his attackers through and I think whoever starts as striker will benefit from this along with Coutinho and Sterling.
- Tomorrow's game will be Liverpool's 24th appearance in an FA Cup semi-final.
- Five of Aston Villa's nine goals in their three FA Cup fixtures this year have been scored in the last five minutes of the game.
- Liverpool have lost only one of their last nine FA Cup semi-finals.
I am so excited for this game I can't even describe it, it's a massive tie for me as I have long been treating the FA Cup as a must have for Liverpool as I predicted the top four may well be out of reach. I hate to say it but it's an important tie for Brendan Rodgers who will have to question his season if he fails to pick up any silverware and is unable to scrape into the Champions League places.
All I ask tomorrow is that the lads give it their all and be sensible. I can see the game going for at least 30 minutes without a goal and this is where Liverpool seem to make mistakes. In the meantime the opposition grow more and more comfortable, it would only take a flash from Benteke to put Liverpool on the back foot. In fact an early goal tomorrow would be brilliant in my opinion but I think as has often happened this season, it may take us a while to get off the mark.
I will certainly be popping a quid on Martin Skrtel to score my favourite... bet haha! And I will probably have a Balotelli scorecast at some point depending on whether he is included, keep an eye on my Twitter feed and I'll let you know what I have - @LFCKirstyLFC
Enjoy the match folks, wherever you are watching, especially if you're at Wembley!!!
Watch the FA Cup Semi-Final between Aston Villa and Liverpool exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from 2pm this Sunday
(The above is a promo due to using quotes and an image from a press release.)