Liverpool's English midfielder Steven Gerrard misses his penalty during the English Premier League football match between Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool at Ewood Park in Blackburn, north-west England, on January 5, 2011. (ANDREW YATES/Getty Images) Tim Howard of Everton shouts orders during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Blackburn Rovers at Goodison Park on January 21, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Battle for the FA Cup
Two big derby brawls highlight this weekend’s FA Cup semifinals as the cities of Liverpool and London are set to duke it out on Wembley’s hallowed turf. Liverpool take on Everton at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday in a Merseyside clash (special SDD repeat at 8:00 p.m. ET) while Tottenham face Chelsea Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET in an all-London shootout. Here are the top players to watch in these big clashes:
Brad Jones, GK, Liverpool
Liverpool are without first-choice keeper Pepe Reina and backup Doni after the duo were sent off in successive matches. Jones stopped an (admittedly terrible) penalty taken by Blackburn’s Yakubu Tuesday but how he handles the jitters at Wembley will be a major story worth watching. Jones has had a heartbreaking year - his son, Luca, died of leukemia in November.
Luis Suarez, F, Liverpool
The Uruguayan sparkplug has struggled of late and the Reds will need him to have a big game against Everton’s backline. He’s creating chances and taking shots, but too few of them are falling of late. The strains of this year are surely showing, but he can be a big-game player. Saturday, he’ll need to be.
Steven Gerrard, M, Liverpool
Is the captain hurting or helping Liverpool? It seems like a laughable question but since his return to the side, the Reds have won only three of 14 league games. Our own Jonathan Wilson suggests that the undeniably talented player may have unbalanced the side, but there is no mistaking his ability to pick the team up on his shoulders and win the day.
Nikica Jelavic, F, Everton
The Everton hit-man is in hot form with five goals in ten games and he surely must relish running at the untested Jones in the Liverpool nets. The Croatian has given the Toffees real bite since his transfer from Rangers and he will have to be contained if the Reds are to hold off their arch-rivals.
Tim Howard, GK, Everton
Steady, serene and commanding, the American number one remains one of England’s top keepers. He’s a brilliant shot-stopper and has improved his positioning, meaning that when he is on, he is almost unbeatable. With Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga in front of him, the Toffees suddenly look like a very hard team to score upon.
Royston Drenthe, M/F, Everton
The Dutch midfielder has been brilliant since joining Everton on loan, with superb ball skills and mazy runs that have created gaps and goals alike. Skilled out wide left, his crosses and vision can be the x-factor.
Luka Modric, M/F, Tottenham
The Croatian genius is considered emblematic of the “new breed” of midfielders and his vision and creativity make him a man Chelsea must contain to prosper. However, Modric can be as frustrating as he is thrilling. He has a tendency to disappear and has looked tired of late. He needs to show up in top form Sunday.
Gareth Bale, M/W, Tottenham
The fleet Welshman adds width and bite to a Spurs team that has of late been too compressed. If he and Modric can combine with Rafael van der Vaart to peel away defenders, Emmanuel Adebayor can do damage. Of course, so can he - his left foot is deadly.
Harry Redknapp, manager, Tottenham
What’s a manager doing here? Presiding over a team taking a swan dive. Since he declared his interest in the England vacancy, Spurs have gone south. Redknapp needs to get his team in shape, and get them playing the same fast, flowing football that made them so thrilling at the start of this season.
Fernando Torres, F, Chelsea
Remember when we were all poking fun at the $80m man? Well, he’s not back but he is showing signs of his old, dangerous self again up top for the Blues. On his day, he can be a handful, spraying crosses and testing keepers. When he’s off — as he was for much of this season — he’s a waste.
John Terry, D, Chelsea
He’s had many issues on and off the field, but he can still marshal a defense with the best of them. He needs the play in front of him and he is given to a bad foul now and again, but if Chelsea are controlling the play in midfield, his back line is nearly unbreachable thanks to his organizational skills and experience.
Juan Mata, M, Chelsea
One of the best newcomers of the season, the winger has been instrumental in Chelsea’s attack and his creativity has often carried the Blues in big games. He’s been forming a tasty partnership with Torres and when he is in full stride, he’s extraordinarily difficult to stop.