Already dumped out of the Champions League and long since out of the running for the Premier League title, it is the two domestic cup competitions that provide Brendan Rodgers with the only chance to end what has been an extremely trying season with his first silverware on Merseyside. Having booked their place in the Capital One Cup semifinals, Liverpool on Monday begin their campaign in the FA Cup, with a romantic third round tie at League Two side AFC Wimbledon.
It was 27 years ago that the original Wimbledon caused the most famous upset in the history of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. In the 1988 final, a dominant Liverpool team were overwhelming favorites to defeat a club that had risen rapidly through the division and attained a nickname of “The Crazy Gang” for their antics on and off the pitch. Instead Wimbledon triumphed 1-0 for their only major honor.
The fairytale didn’t last forever, and in 2000 they were relegated. Then, in a hugely controversial move, the team was allowed to relocate from south London to Milton Keynes. Incensed, the team’s fans started AFC Wimbledon in order to keep their club alive, and, remarkably, their success has mirrored that of the club’s predecessor. Just nine years after its formation, AFC Wimbledon had risen through the non-league pyramid and into the Football League. Now their 5,000 capacity Kingsmeadow Stadium, from which they are looking to imminently move into a larger venue, plays host to the most glamorous game in the young club’s history.
“The Third Round of The FA Cup for a club like us is absolutely immense,” manager Neal Ardley, who played for Wimbledon when they regularly took on Liverpool in the Premier League, said, according to theFA.com.
“People have worked hard behind the scenes at this club to get it to where it is and I desperately wanted to get them into the Third Round of The FA Cup. I really hoped that the draw would be a glamour tie which will put us on the map and financially help, which will bring everything to the party and give us something to look forward to over Christmas and into January.”
Liverpool will be focused on ending the romance once the first whistle sounds. Certainly they will be desperate to avoid the match becoming the last ever appearance in the FA Cup for captain Steven Gerrard. The Anfield legend has announced he was leaving the club at the end of the season, and he may already be eyeing a fairytale farewell in the FA Cup final at Wembley, which falls on the same day as his 35th birthday.
“Our aim was always to win a trophy this year and even more so now with that added incentive,” Rodgers said, reports the Liverpool Echo. “To have a captain who has been a monumental figure for this club leaving there would be no greater tribute than to reach a final, particularly an FA Cup final, and to see him lift a trophy - that's what dreams are all about. It would be a great way for him to end his career and certainly we don't want Stoke City away [in the Premier League on May 24] to be our last game of the season.”
Liverpool have a doubt over the fitness of Mario Balotelli, who missed the 2-2 New Year’s Day draw with Leicester City. Martin Skrtel is available again after suspension.
Prediction: It should be a passionate atmosphere at Kingsmeadow, cheering on a team that has been in good form, having won four of their last five matches. But, despite a disappointing draw last time out, Liverpool have also impressed of late, with Rodgers striking on a system to rediscover some of the side’s attacking dynamism. Problems remain at the back and that could well enable the underdogs to score a memorable goal. But, especially with Rodgers expected to field a strong lineup, Liverpool’s quality should ultimately tell.
AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 2.55 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1