LONDON: Premier League title rivals Liverpool and leaders Manchester City will come face to face in next month’s semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were the last of the four semi-finalists to reach Wembley on April 16 and 17 after winning 1-0 away to Nottingham Forest with a late goal from Diogo Jota.
This was the first time the two clubs had met in the FA Cup 1989 semi-finals and Forest left 97 seats empty in the City Ground to honour those who died in the Hillsborough disaster.
Liverpool fielded a comparatively weakened team as manager Jurgen Klopp made seven changes from the team who beat Arsenal in midweek in the Premier League.
Among the absentees was rightback Trent Alexander-Arnold, through injury, not for a rest. Alexander-Arnold will be out for at least three weeks with a hamstring injury which could be a serious blow for the newly-crowned League Cup-winners in their pursuit of the three remaining legs of the quadruple.
Manchester City maintained their pursuit of neighbours United’s unique treble in 1999 of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup with a decisive 4-1 defeat of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton.
City, who will face Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, scored all five goals. They took an early lead through Raheem Sterling, provided an own goal equaliser from Aymeric Laporte then seized command after the interval through Kevin de Bruyne (penalty), Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez.
Manager Pep Guardiola praised Hasenhuttl’s work. He said: “Southampton are one of the best, most organised teams we have played this season.”
Guardiola added: “It was not a comfortable victory but now we go into the international break, with two months left in the season and we are in three competitions. We know every game is a final and we knew it was important not to lose today.”
Chelsea shut out the noise around their ownership crisis with a comfortable 2-0 win at second-tier Middlesbrough.
First-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech kept them on course for what would be a fifth FA Cup Final in the past six seasons. Lukaku has not scored in the league since the end of last year yet contributed to the club’s ongoing success with three goals in the FA Cup and two in the Club World Cup.
The Blues, under the ownership of outgoing Roman Abramovich, have made Wembley a second home. They won the FA Cup five times for him though the oligarch missed the 2018 victory over Manchester United through visa problems.
That was a sign of the events to come and which saw only 600 Chelsea present at the Riverside. They had paid up before UK government restrictions barred the club from selling the remaining 3,900 tickets in their allocation.
Manager Thomas Tuchel and his players have weathered the storm in impressive fashion. Tuchel has guided his team to four victories in three different competitions – Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in 10 days – since sanctions were imposed.
Tuchel, who made five changes from the midweek Champions League success in Lille, said: “Middlesbrough were brave and it was never easy. We never let them get in a foot in the door but our effort was huge. We were very disciplined, very serious and showed quality in decisive moments.
“The trust and team spirit was impressive. That is the culture at our club. No matter what we do and how much we worry we cannot change the situation so we have to find a certain way of accepting the situation and accepting what we can influence.”
Last Friday was the deadline set by Raine investment bank for offers from prospective new owners. Tuchel said: “I don’t know anything about the offers, either how many serious offers there are or who they are from.”
One is from British property developer Nick Candy, another from a consortium led by Lord Sebastian Coe, the former Olympic champion who is now World Athletics president as well as a long-time Chelsea fan and a third is from Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss together with LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly. The preferred choice will need government approval including a guarantee that no proceeds will go to Abramovich.
In the semi-finals Chelsea will face Crystal Palace who reached the last four for the first time in six seasons by thrashing Everton 4-0. Visiting manager Frank Lampard, after only seven weeks, is in danger in the traditional sacking season which is the international break as Everton’s season went from and to worse.
Palace manager Patrick Vieira is having an impressive first season in Premier League management. They have lost only once only in their last 10 games in all competitions, including holding Manchester City goalless on Monday.
Vieira on the FA Cup four times as a player with Arsenal and once with City and owed progress to goals from captain Marc Guehi and Jean-Philippe Mateta in the first half then Wilfried Zaha and Will Hughes in the second. Guehi, born in the Ivory Coast, has just been called up by England for the friendlies against Switzerland and the country of his birth.