"If you've got the guts mister, if you've got the balls, you think it's your time, then step to the line and bring on your wrecking ball"
- Bruce Springsteen,Wrecking Ball
There will be beeping alarm clocks aplenty in the city of Liverpool early on Saturday morning. Thousands of fans will rub their eyes and see their replica shirts and lucky underwear laid out in anticipation of a trip to Wembley. For many, the journey will involve overcrowded trains at Lime Street Station, while for others it will be laced with the grey tarmac of the motorway, with an intermission for coffee at Watford Gap services. All roads from the North West on Saturday morning head to Wembley Stadium.
It goes without saying that the FA Cup Semi-Final is a vital moment in Everton's season. It is a great opportunity for an upper-half finish to be supplemented by something far more memorable: the chance to return to the FA Cup Final and to win the trophy for the first time since 1995. As well as being vital for the Football Club, this match also marks a crucial point in the reign of Everton's manager David Moyes, who after a decade in charge of the club is two victories away from being remembered as an important figure in its history rather than a very good manager who won no silverware.
All too often, Moyes has sent his side out with the mentality of the plucky underdog. The nauseating tag of "overachievers" coined by the media must now be banished. After all, how many years must a team finish in the top eight before this becomes an minimum expectation?
Everton are no longer the underdogs. Liverpool currently sit below them in the league and it is vital that Moyes approaches the game with this in mind. Over the last decade, on too many occasions David Moyes' teams have simply caved in when facing Liverpool. (These instances do not include the notable occasions when questionable refereeing decisions have unfairly robbed his side.)
This is the game when all of the ifs, buts and maybes must end. It's time to banish the memory of no wins at Anfield in ten years as a manager and it's time to bury the underdog mentality of trying to nick a goal and then hold on. This is Moyes' big chance to shake off the inferiority complex that has made trips to places such as Anfield and Old Trafford a write off for the last decade.
Everton have a team that is absolutely capable of beating their local rivals. Much depends on the central midfield partnership between Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson. Despite initial reservations about his signing, Everton fans will surely admit that Gibson has excelled so far in his Everton career, providing balance and discipline that has allowed Fellaini to roam freely and perform at his imperious best.
Nikica Jelavic is the man who Liverpool will fear most on Saturday. The former Rangers striker has already scored an impressive five goals in seven starts for Everton since joining the club for £5.5 million on transfer deadline day. The signing of Jelavic has also resulted in something of a return to form for Tim Cahill, who had long looked as if his best days were behind him. Cahill's improved performances have not yet yielded goals, but with his excellent Merseyside derby record he will be a guaranteed starter on Saturday.
Moyes is also likely to select the young Frenchman Magaye Gueye ahead of Royston Drenthe on the left wing. Gueye has plenty of technical ability and his confidence will have soared after a goal against Sunderland on Monday, but he must improve his anticipation and decision making if he is to keep up with the frenetic speed of a Merseyside Derby. Drenthe has the ability to change games, but on this stage his temperament will be of huge concern. I have often criticised Moyes for his cautious approach, but few could blame him if he decides Drenthe is best used as a substitute for this game.
The rest of the team picks itself, with Heitinga and Distin preferred over Jagielka in central defence. Heitinga has been a revelation of late and along with Fellaini will be a leading candidate for Everton's player of the season.
For Everton fans, Saturday afternoon will end in triumph or tears. For David Moyes, there will rarely be a better opportunity to prove himself on the big stage. This is no time for negative setups, no time for wistful soundbites of "they've spent more money than us", no time for "sometimes defending is more important", and above all, no time for failure. David Moyes has the ability and so does his team. This Everton team must show up and take the game by the scruff of the neck. Above all though, they must truly believe that they can win.
Over to you, David Moyes. Bring on your wrecking ball.Suggest a correction