For both managers involved, Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal between Manchester United and Everton offers the chance from some salvation in campaigns that have failed to meet expectations. Both Louis van Gaal and Roberto Martinez, though, insist they have no interest in evaluating their own positions ahead of the trip to Wembley.
Indeed, Van Gaal has gone a step further in suggesting that the very fact that his team is in the competition’s final four is a sign that there has been improvement from last season. It has been a campaign that has brought plenty of frustration for United fans, with the team crashing out early from both the Champions League and the Europa League while failing to mount a challenge for the Premier League title. However, with United still competing for a top-four berth and having improved on their FA Cup quarterfinal exit of a year ago, Van Gaal was keen to portray the season in a positive light.
“We are further than last year,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Thursday. “We were in the quarter-finals, now we are in the semi-finals, I believe. That means we are better than last year.
“It's not for me to judge [the importance of the game], I have said that already in former press conferences. So I do my utmost best and I said that we are in the semifinals of the FA Cup, we are still in the race for fourth in the Premier League and that was our aim.”
While few supporters may agree with the assessment, there has been reason for optimism in the past 10 days. After a strong showing to beat West Ham at Upton Park in their quarterfinal replay, United have won back-to-back Premier League matches to keep the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City.
In contrast, there is little light shining through at Goodison Park right now. A 4-0 defeat at Merseyside rivals Liverpool on Wednesday was a new low in a season in which it has already been confirmed that Everton will finish with their worst home record in top-flight history. Many have suggested that the Merseyside derby defeat, which also included a sending off for Ramiro Funes Mori, saw Martinez reach a point of no return. What is clear is that the man who won the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic in 2013 could badly do with further success in the competition on Saturday.
“I wouldn't be professional if I was using my time to talk about what people think and what the feeling is about the manager,” Martinez said ahead of the game. “My position is to use the time as well as we can to prepare the team to get everyone ready for the next game. All that matters is how quickly we can get focused for the semifinal.
“We've been working very hard since I've been at the football club to be at Wembley to challenge for silverware, and this is the opportunity we have. Of course we carry in hurt, but whatever you carry into a semifinal, sometimes it’s good momentum, sometimes it’s negative momentum, it doesn’t really matter once the whistle blows.”
Martinez, though, also faces a major defensive headache. As well as the suspended Funes Mori, fellow center-backs John Stones and Phil Jagielka will have to face late fitness tests, while right-back Seamus Coleman has been ruled out.
There is much better news for Manchester United. Chris Smalling will be fit, despite picking up a knock in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Adnan Januzaj and Luke Shaw the only absentees.
Kickoff time: 12:15 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2