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THIS weekend marks the 150th year anniversary of the FA Cup final, with Chelsea and Liverpool set to go head-to-head for the second time this season in a domestic cup final at the national stadium.
It has been just over two months since these two clubs battled out a 0-0 draw after extra time in the League Cup Final, which saw the team from Merseyside eventually take the cup back to the northwest following an epic penalty shootout.
Despite Jurgen Klopp obviously being the happier of the two managers following his team’s triumph, Thomas Tuchel will have been buoyed by his team’s performance over 120 minutes, as Chelsea gave as good as they got on the day.
That game was decided following Kepa Arrizabalaga’s penalty miss, which concluded a shootout that marked the most penalty kicks ever to be taken in a League Cup final.
The match paid testament to how closely matched these two teams can be on any given day.
Throw into the mix the fact that the two Premier League ties this season between the two clubs have also ended in draws and the prospect of the game this weekend certainly whets the appetite for what could be a titanic battle at Wembley.
The last time these two teams met in an FA Cup final was in 2012, which is also the only time they have contested the final of this competition previously, with Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues the victors after beating Kenny Dalglish’s Reds 2-1 on the day.
The only survivor from that encounter for either side is the Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, whose starting berth at Wembley should be assured.
In recent weeks, Klopp has often opted for a midfield three of Fabinho, Thiago and Keita, which has proven a successful formula. But the injury that saw Fabinho leave the pitch early at Villa Park this week should pave the way for the Liverpool captain to lead the team out under the Wembley arch.
Another player whose late surge in form put him firmly in line for a Wembley start is Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker had fallen out of favour and out of form following some choice comments he made earlier in the season about his love for Inter Milan.
But three goals in the last two league games has given Tuchel a timely reminder of the asset that he has at his disposal, and the well-timed recent run of form may be enough to guarantee Lukaku’s inclusion in the starting line-up.
Liverpool’s draw with Spurs last week put a sizeable dent in their chances of completing a well documented — and unprecedented — quadruple, with Manchester City showing no signs of faltering in their league form. That will put even more emphasis on Klopp’s men to go all out for the cup treble.
The FA Cup will be the second instalment of the treble, should the Reds be triumphant at Wembley, with the League Cup already nestled within the Anfield trophy cabinet and a date with Real Madrid in the Champions League final coming up at the end of the month.
Winning all three cups would be a befitting consolation for missing out on the league, should Manchester City hold their nerve and come out of their last two league games unscathed.
The treble would also represent success in a season where the Reds have been lauded as possibly the best team in the world, which would be seen by many as a hollow claim should they only end up with the League Cup to show for their achievements.
Chelsea, on the other hand, will feel they have unfinished business at Wembley and also in this competition.
Tuchel and his boys will undoubtedly feel aggrieved and a tad unlucky at having lost out to Liverpool on penalties in the League cup final, while the memory of last season’s FA Cup final loss to Leicester will surely provide additional motivation to the boys in blue to get the job done this time round.
This competition also represents Tuchel’s last chance at silverware for the season, so you can be sure that he will be expecting his troops to leave it all out there on the Wembley turf come kick off.
It has the ingredients of an explosive affair with both teams intent on imposing their playing styles on the other, so while you can never guarantee a goal fest in a major cup final with so much at stake, you can rest assured that it will be a game of high technicality, sprinkled with a few thrills and spills along the way.
But it would take an extremely brave soul to put their house on who will be lifting the famous trophy at the end of the battle.
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