By Andrew Embling
- Manchester United are looking to reach their first final since 2007
- We have picked three key battles that could decide the semi-final
Manchester United take on Everton in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley on Saturday evening as they look to win the trophy for the first time since 2004.
United, with such a proud history in the competition, have not featured in the final in 2007 when they were beaten by Chelsea.
But the Red Devils have won the trophy eleven times, second only to current holders Arsenal.
A win on Saturday would give United a record equaling nineteenth appearance in the final and they will surely be favourites to lift the trophy with Watford and Crystal Palace battling it out for the other final place.
It has been so long since United beat Millwall that none of the current crop of players have experienced lifting the trophy, with the likes of Wayne Rooney keen to add an FA Cup winners’ medal to their collection.
Louis van Gaal may also be dreaming of leading his troops out on Wembley’s hallowed turf on May 21st but if they are going to make it to the final they need to overcome an Everton side with big game experience and a manager who lifted the trophy as a giant killer when he was at Wigan.
Roberto Martinez helped his un-fancied Wigan side beat the blue half of Manchester on that day in 2013 and he will be looking to get the better of the red half of Manchester in this encounter.
Everton got the better of United last time the two sides met at this stage of the competition, in 2009, in a game which went to a dreaded penalty shootout.
Many semi-finals over the years have been nervy, tense affairs, with the players aware that they are a moment of magic or a mistake away from one of the biggest games in domestic football and this game may once again go the distance with United’s lack of goals well documented all season and Everton also underachieving.
The Toffees come into the game on the back of a poor performance against their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, where they capitulated to a 4-0 defeat, whilst United are on a run of five wins in the past six games, with the defeat at Tottenham their only aberration during that run.
Both sides will be keen to take the initiative, with some key battles sure to influence the outcome of a game which is likely to help make or break each side’s season.
Martial v Coleman/Oviedo
Anthony Martial has been a revelation since his arrival at Old Trafford, wowing fans and critics alike with his pace, power and skill.
Martial has netted 13 times this season, second only to Wayne Rooney for his club, and will be looking to add to that at the weekend.
At times Martial has looked the only United player capable of creating a chance and all eyes will once again be focussed on him as the most likely to cause Everton’s defence a headache.
Seamus Coleman has been one of Everton’s best performing players over the past few seasons, but has been struggling with a hamstring injury which he picked up recently against Southampton and is not certain to feature.
If he is fit, Seamus Coleman will have his work cut out to stop United’s mercurial Frenchman, but will also be a danger in attack with his rampaging runs down the right flank.
If Coleman doesn’t recover in time for the game then it is expected that Costa Rican International Bryan Oviedo will fill the right-back position for Everton.
Oviedo’s time at Goodison Park has ruined by injury, suffering a number of long-term injury including a broken leg in January 2014 that forced out of his countries campaign at 2014 World Cup.
Smalling v Lukaku
The Belgian international can be a real handful when he’s in the mood and has an eye for goal having hit the back of the net 25 times in all competitions already this season.
If United are going to progress to the final Smalling will need to keep close tabs on Lukaku, who will look to isolate Smalling’s defensive partner Daley Blind.
Marcus Rashford v John Stones
Marcus Rashford has enjoyed a remarkable start to his United career, scoring seven times for the first team already.
He launched himself onto the stage with two goals on debut against FC Midtjylland and then made an even more indelible mark with two goals against Arsenal in his first league outing just days later.
Stones has been suffering from illness and was removed midway through the second half against Liverpool during the week, but with Funes Mori suspended following his red card in the derby and Phil Jagielka struggling to overcome injury a lot will rest on the shoulders of the 21-year-old.
Rashford is sharp and full of confidence, whilst Stones had struggled to hold down a regular place this season after a promising start to his career which saw him feature regularly for his country.