FOX Soccer Exclusive
Chelsea holds the edge in FA Cup final
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I spent the day in Boston talking with Liverpool’s chairman Tom Werner— you’ll be able to see that interview exclusively on FOX Soccer — and so it’s only right we start with the big game this weekend.
Werner told me that he feels that winning the FA Cup is absolutely imperative to getting Liverpool where they want to be next season. They are disappointed about not getting into the Champions League, but he still considers the season very much a success. They take a lot of pride in being able to raise the Carling Cup, while placing significant value on this weekend’s game. I think disappointment over not making the Champions League really comes from the fact that the club was planning to use that money to reinvest back into the club and stadium. But they stressed to me they will make the necessary off-season moves to get back to where they want to be.
They face Chelsea, and I think the question is simple: how much is left in the Blues tank? They have been on this magical drive and they have yet to find anyone that can slow them down. It’s simply amazing. They are managing their personnel very well, and they have managed to get out of every jam. I think Chelsea are the clear favorites right now.
You have two guys coming off hat tricks, and I don’t know the last time that you could have said that. It’s great to see Fernando Torres scoring goals. Moreover, he’s showing up every day. He’s a great second option to have behind Didier Drogba – but someday I do want to see both men running out together and test out that partnership again. On the other side, Luis Suarez looked very good in the last game, and I think Liverpool were smart to give Steven Gerrard some time off to keep him fresh for the weekend.
Liverpool has placed a premium on this game but I see this going Chelsea’s way. It may go to extra time, it may even go to a penalty shootout, but my gut tells me it’s a one-goal match.
Manchester’s other team
We now have a title race that is up for grabs, but it’s City who are in the fast lane. United now have to hope someone else can do what they should have done on Monday night, which is put this thing to bed by defeating Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. Many will be asking questions about Sir Alex Ferguson and rightfully so. When I first heard that Antonio Valencia wasn’t starting, my head whipped right around. I thought he could have made a huge impact, but I guess Ferguson had a gut feeling about Park Ji-sung. It didn’t work.
I think the game that decides the title will be City’s match at Newcastle. They’ll handle QPR on the last day, but you know United will take care of their business. What must kill United fans is that United should have never let it get to this point. They had the title, but losing to Wigan and then dropping two home points against Everton was simply inexcusable. They can blame no one but themselves.
It will be interesting to see what kind of an impact losing the title would have on United. Would that trigger some buying and some new signings? It remains to be seen. A lot of questions suddenly pop up about Sir Alex too; as many were saying that this was his best managerial season ever. When you have the title in your hands and don’t win it, there will be an inquest.
Rise and fall
I like the fact that both these teams are coming back up to the big time. Reading has had limited success at this level in the past, and they did a great job getting themselves here. Not many people are giving Southampton enough credit for back-to-back promotions either. I think both of these teams are going to have a say in the Premier League next season — relegation isn’t going to be in their vocabulary. Look at Norwich and Swansea this year and you see the expectations have been elevated for promoted clubs. These two sides know it, and now they need to go out and find a few more pieces.
I think either West Ham or Blackpool will join them out of the playoffs. I liked what I saw from Blackpool in their FA Cup run. Any time you can add a team that wears a solid orange strip to a league, that’s a good thing by me.
Wolves, Blackburn and QPR are the guys going down. We already know about Wolves, and when I saw how Blackburn played this weekend, I just knew they were sunk. When you have an opportunity to dig yourself out of a hole and you just fail miserably, it tells me you don’t have what it takes to stay alive.
Henry’s injury blow
There’s a cynical part in me that said he must have rented a villa on the coast of Spain and wanted a break. The truth is, given Thierry Henry’s form and what he means to the league, it’s a big blow to MLS and New York that he will be out for a month with a hamstring injury. The good news is that Juan Agudelo should be back and fit. American fans have been begging for him to get an opportunity to play on a regular basis. Here’s your chance, Juan.
A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter @RobStoneONFOX.