Reds and Blues have eyes on the prize
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and twice claiming the Ballon d'Or during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has also managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham.
The magic of the FA Cup has well and truly returned in the past couple of years and we are set for a fascinating final between Chelsea and Liverpool on Saturday. If you want proof that the allure of the FA Cup is back, you need look no further than the teams the finalists put out in their midweek Premier League games. Liverpool are still playing to finish above Everton in the league and Chelsea are playing for fourth - but both were willing to forsake that in a bid for Cup glory - and rightly so. We can talk up the competition as much as we like but their actions have spoken louder than our words, the two managers have clearly geared themselves towards the FA Cup - something we might not have been saying a few years ago.
It has to be said that the 5.15pm kick-off time of the final has drawn a few complaints and I heard Sir Alex Ferguson say this week that he feels it is disrespectful to move the game from its traditional 3pm slot. I do feel that there should be no Premier League fixtures on the same day in order to keep the focus on a game that has been the absolute showcase of English football for more than a century. Regardless of the start time, though, I'm expecting an entertaining encounter at Wembley and I'm really looking forward to it.
The FA Cup final is an unbelievably special day ... if you win that is. I've been on the winning side and the losing side, and if you're beaten it's a dreadfully sad, despairing feeling when you trudge off as a loser as I did with Liverpool against Manchester United in 1977. But when you come off as a winner and go around parading the cup, nothing beats that - lifting the FA Cup is very special and right up there with anything I achieved in my playing career.
There is so much at stake for both sets of players at Wembley and though there have been suggestions that Chelsea will have one eye on the Champions League final, I personally can't see that happening. We had a similar situation at Liverpool back in 1977; we had just won the league and had an FA Cup final against Manchester United, three days before the European Cup final in Rome. I don't know about the other players, but I certainly had nothing on my mind apart from playing against United. Having said that, Liverpool supporters may have thought that our focus was elsewhere as our performance wasn't great and we lost - if Chelsea get beaten, you can guarantee the same accusations will be levelled at them.
Should any of Chelsea's players be tempted to take their eyes off the immediate prize this Saturday, I'm sure John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires will be quick to remind them of their responsibilities. With that trio out of the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, the FA Cup final becomes their biggest game of the season. While they are the sort of players who would always give it everything anyway, they can't be accused of having their minds elsewhere because there is no elsewhere for them. Having those three already influential figures raring to go and desperate to land some silverware is a major plus for Chelsea.
Roberto Di Matteo has done an impressive job at Stamford Bridge and winning the FA Cup would give Roman Abramovich a major nudge - I'm not sure what more he would have to do to be given the job on a full-time basis. What Roberto's done hasn't exactly been groundbreaking but it's been sensible and often that's the best way to make decisions as a manager. He's put the faith back in the experienced players. Andre Villas-Boas tried to overhaul things overnight and it was a big mistake. Roberto has picked them back up and he's told Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry that they are the key players again; he's thrown down the challenge and they've responded. I'm delighted for him as it's an opportunity he never would have expected and he's grabbed it with both hands.
This Saturday, Roberto will have to make one of his biggest decisions yet, with the form of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba giving him a major dilemma. Torres has got his swagger and his confidence back recently, and has looked like the player who starred for Liverpool. The Liverpool fans I've spoken to over the past week are certainly worried he's going to come back and haunt them at Wembley. There will obviously be a massive temptation to play Torres against his former club, but I think Roberto Di Matteo will plump for Drogba as he's already shown his hand a few times, notably in those semi-final matches against Barcelona. However, Torres is a major ace for Chelsea to have up their sleeve as an impact substitute.
While Drogba or Torres could prove Chelsea's FA Cup hero, Liverpool have two of their own in waiting. Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were excellent at Norwich last week and if they can get that sort of a foothold in the game again, their team-mates don't need to be anything more than support acts. If Gerrard is providing the bullets and Suarez is firing them like he did on his last outing, it will be enough for Liverpool to win the Cup.
It really should be a great FA Cup final. For Di Matteo to get a trophy during his caretaker reign would be fantastic and for Kenny Dalglish to be able to say he's won two major trophies of the three Liverpool competed in this season would help appease those who have been unhappy with the below-average league form. The incentives are huge for both teams.
It may not be surprising, but I'm with John Barnes on the red side of the fence this Saturday. I was worried about the semi-final against Everton and I'm even more wary about Chelsea, they've got character and got their belief back, especially after beating Barcelona. I'm expecting plenty of goals, but I just have a feeling that this one has Liverpool's name on it - whatever happens it's sure to be a special day.
Kings for a Day - Football's Giant Killers - focuses on the unique David vs. Goliath aspect of The FA Cup. Using behind the scenes footage from this year, plus archive material, the film provides a unique insight into the psyche of the underdog - so key to the competition. The show, to be broadcast on FA Cup Final day on ESPN, features interviews with the likes of FA Cup giantkillers Ronnie Radford and Vinnie Jones plus legendary FA Cup commentator John Motson.