Three of the four teams involved in the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend lost Premier League matches away from home by at least two goals on Wednesday. Everton were humiliated and demolished by Liverpool, Watford lost out to a classy West Ham side and Crystal Palace could not stop Manchester United moving up to fifth place in the table. In the context of the Cup United are on track to maintain recent trends.
There is a history of shocks in the earlier rounds but usually the cream comes to the top. Since the beginning of the Premier League era for the 1992/93 season 44 of the 46 finalists have come from the top level of English football. In the last 23 seasons the average Premier League finishing position of the Cup winners has been fifth while the losing finalists averaged eighth place in the top league. If United win the Cup they would be about an average ranked winner.
In 2004 Millwall from League One were outclassed by Manchester United in the Cup Final. Four years later Cardiff represented the Championship but were beaten by Portsmouth who were in the Premier League at the time. One of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have won the FA Cup 18 times since 1993 and since joining the elite Manchester City have also won the competition. The point is that despite early upsets the Cup has been dominated by the Premier League superpowers. United are now clear favourites to keep that run going.
They play Everton at Wembley on Saturday evening but that side looked totally demoralised against Liverpool. It was possibly the most one sided fixture in the history of the Premier League. Liverpool had 13 shots on target and Everton did not manage one. The Reds had 66.7% of the possession and the Blues won one corner while their hosts had nine. At one stage during the second half an Everton player did not touch the ball for about three minutes.
Roberto Martinez is now the favourite in the Premier League Sack Race but traditionally Everton are not a sacking club. However, a new investor may not have the loyal instincts of Bill Kenwright and the fans want Martinez to go and they ultimately decide the fate of the boss. In an interview after the embarrassing defeat Martinez seemed to be making a resignation speech in saying:
“It was a horrible experience for everyone connected with the club. We gave away a soft cushion of two goals. Just before half-time that becomes a massive blow. We tried to regroup but the first action is a red-card incident. From that point on the game becomes a non-event and it becomes a horrible experience, especially knowing the big game we have around the corner”.
That big game is against United in the Cup and only a win seems like saving Martinez’s job. Their opponents have almost stumbled into fifth place and despite not because of Louis Van Gaal they could win the Cup. Martinez does not appear to have the stomach for the fight so United should be backed giving up one goal in the handicap markets. It’s almost inevitable that Wayne Rooney will score against the club he loves. Once he break’s Bobby Charlton’s United scoring record he could return to Goodison Park and if the betting markets are correct David Moyes could be his manager again.
In 1984 Everton beat Watford in the Cup Final and in 1990 United beat Palace. In theory there could be a repeat of one of those fixtures but more likely is a mix and match with United playing Watford. That side are currently four places and two points ahead of Palace in the Premier League and have played one match less. Both sides are clear of relegation despite a dip in form after threatening to qualify for Europe early in the season.
By reaching the Cup Final from the bottom half of the table either side would be a statistical blip. We have pointed out that cream rises to the top and no team from the Championship or lower has played in the Cup Final since 2008. The form would suggest that Manchester United will beat Watford in the showpiece match of the season at Wembley in May. Van Gaal could then leave the club with some dignity before Jose Mourinho finally takes up the position he craves most.
Alan Pardew is the favourite in some lists to be the next England manager. Roy Hodgson seems to have bought himself some time and should survive unless Euro 2016 is another debacle. After an unhappy spell at Newcastle Pardew has taken Palace to Premier League safety and an FA Cup semi-final. Progressing one stage further looks behind his side because on current form Manchester United will beat Watford in this season’s Cup Final and Martinez will be soon out of a job.