It’s a huge weekend for…Blackburn, Wigan, Sunderland and Benitez
Rent-a-quote owner Dave Whelan may have reiterated his desire for prioritising Premier League survival over the FA Cup, and understandably so, but after seven points from their last three league games they have least earnt the right to enjoy Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.
Wigan have a match against a Championship side to earn a place in the Europa League, a phenomenal achievement for a club with their support base and size. Their semi-final appearance is already the furthest the club have been in the competition.
Whilst Wigan’s Premier League status has to be the priority, there is no better occasion club or fans than a FA Cup final appearance.
Rafa Benitez has received criticism for resting some of his players in the Premier League, but when a manager is labelled as ‘interim’ can you blame him having short-term aspirations? His prioritisation of cup competitions over the league may be questioned, but the reality is this: Chelsea won the Champions League and FA Cup last season, but finished sixth in the Premier League.
Given that the Champions League was not available to Benitez, the fact that the Spaniard has the real potential to win the Europa League, FA Cup and a third-placed finish. That’s not half bad.
Standing in Chelsea’s way is a rejuvenated Manchester City, who will have gained great confidence from their victory over United. The winners of the last two FA Cups meet in the semi-final. Given the potential opponents in the final, and without being disrespectful, a win will be one hand on the trophy.
It’s very harsh to criticise a manager after two games (both of which were away from home), but when your appointment is essentially based on a seven-game season, every match is crucial.
The positive spin is that Sunderland took the lead at Stamford Bridge in Paulo Di Canio’s first game in charge, but the realism is that the defeat took Sunderland level on points with the relegation zone, and they failed to have a single shot on target in the match. Next up is the small matter of a Tyne-Wear derby, and Sunderland need to avoid defeat if they are to not slip further into trouble.
As Lee Clark commented in such derby matches: “It’s about having the desire in the game and the commitment, but also having the calm heads”. Good luck at finding that in the Sunderland dugout.
Venkys’ apparent mission to ruin Blackburn is almost complete. Two years ago they were in the Premier League, but fast forward to the present situation and League One looks a very real threat. Four points (and no victories) in their last 11 matches, and
Rovers have dropped into the relegation for the first time this season. On current form, they are a goner.
Blackburn’s future may well be decided in their next two matches. This Saturday they face Derby and Huddersfield follow. Given that after this they travel to Watford, Millwall and Birmingham and have a home game against Crystal Palace. If one of English football’s great declines is not to continue unabated, three points on Saturday looks a must.