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Jon Riley 13th Apr 2012 - 13:39

Take it as Red, back the Blues!

Liverpool v Everton - FA Cup Semi-Final | 12:30 - Live on ESPN

More than just Merseyside pride and local bragging rights will be at stake on Saturday lunchtime when Liverpool and Everton rekindle their fierce rivalry under the iconic Wembley arch. The men in blue and their opponents in red will fight it out for a place in the 2012 FA Cup final, on a weekend of huge importance across the city of Liverpool.

Twenty three years ago to this very weekend, 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster, a tragedy that shook English football to the very core, but more terribly, stole brothers, sisters, dads, uncles and friends away from families all over Merseyside.

The match on Saturday will stir powerful emotions from the fans of both teams and evoke memories of the last time these two giants met at Wembley. Just 35 days after the disaster, quite fittingly, it was Everton that provided the opposition for Liverpool in the 1989 FA Cup final, a city united by grief were reunited at Wembley in a fantastic final that a determined Liverpool won 3-2.

More than two decades on and the hurt is still being felt by relatives of those taken at Hillsborough. Evertonians just as much as Reds endured suffering in the post-disaster period, and reacted with such dignity, love, compassion and genuine support that the people of Liverpool, both red and blue, were one in grief and respect; the links forged as the city closed ranks still endure today.

After a pre-match memorial, captains Phil Neville and Steven Gerrard will lead their teams into battle with a place in the final the ultimate goal. Liverpool hold the upper hand when it comes to semi-final clashes between the teams. Of the four previous meetings, Liverpool have progressed on four occasions and can be backed to win in 90 minutes at 6/4 and 8/11 to qualify through to the final.

Everton though, come into this game on a five game winning run, sweeping away Sunderland in both the league and the cup quarter-final. In this time the Toffees have moved up the Premier League table and are above their cross-city rivals, and although the Evertonians will be aware that league form goes out of the window in the cup, they will be feeling very confident. Everton to win is priced at 2/1 while they can also be backed at Evens to qualify.

The main team news surrounding the game centres around Liverpool's goalkeeping problems. Australia's Brad Jones is set to make his first start since December 2010 in Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Everton. The Australian comes into the side in place of suspended duo Jose Reina, red carded against Newcastle, and Alexander Doni, dismissed on Tuesday away at Blackburn.

William Hill have even created a special Match Winner offer for the game for a goalkeeper to be sent off. Enhanced from 16/1 to 25/1, could the bad luck for Liverpool come in threes or maybe Tim Howard will see red?

Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson are pushing for starts after having both made their comebacks from injuries in the midweek win against Blackburn. Kenny Dalglish will still be without midfielders Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva who remain sidelined with long-term injuries.

Everton manager David Moyes has had the luxury of playing a settled side in recent weeks, not something he can say he's been able to do for much of his tenure at Goodison Park. Moyes actually rested Leighton Baynes, Tim Cahill and Nikica Jelavic for the Easter Monday victory against Sunderland so all three should be fresh to resume duties.

The first goal in this game could be absolutely crucial. The main man for Liverpool is still their skipper and leader, Steven Gerrard. The scouser, and boyhood Everton fan, hit a terrific hat-trick at Anfield as Liverpool defeated Everton early this year and can be backed at 15/2 to open the scoring, 7/4 anytime or 40/1 for another hat-trick.

Gerrard will need more assistance from his supporting cast though if they are to see off Everton once again. Luis Suarez (6/1 first scorer) has shown flashes of unbelievable brilliance this season but also moments of frustration as well. The likes of Andy Carroll (8/1), Dirk Kuyt (9/1) and Craig Bellamy (9/1) have all chipped in with a few goals but nowhere near enough needed for a team looking for Champions League qualification.
Nikica Jelavic looks a real class act leading the line for Everton and has already found the back of the net on a regular basis. The Croatian international looks a real snip for the £7 million transfer fee and if he can score at Wembley, he'll be worth his weight in gold. Jelavic is 7/1 to open the scoring, 2/1 top score anytime and 50/1 to bag a hat-trick.

After being rested over Easter Tim Cahill (9/1 first scorer) will hope to score in his sixth and most important Merseyside derby. The Australian international scored in a FA Cup semi-final for Millwall in 2003 and would love to recreate that winning goal.

My tip for this game is for a tight Everton win. 1-0 to the Blues can be backed at 9/1 and draw/Everton in the double result market is 6/1.

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