The unthinkable has happened. Palace are on their way to Wembley.
After immense doubt amongst all football fans back in the summer of 2021 surrounding the fate of Crystal Palace and the new managerial appointment of Patrick Vieira; Palace are currently sitting pretty in 10th in the Premier League table and are staring down a trip to Wembley this Sunday to take on Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi Final.
Prior to the disappointing 2-1 defeat away to Leicester at the weekend, The Eagles were on an unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions, including impressive performances and results against Arsenal, Manchester City and Wolves. Vieira has completely transformed this Palace side within the last nine months and has produced some seamless and fluid football this season, something which has come as a novelty to South London after the departure of Roy Hodgson at the end of the last campaign.
Palace’s run into the semi final has not been plain sailing. There has been a real mixed bag of games in our lead up to Wembley. An intense derby against Millwall started the cup run back in January, after a moment of madness from Jack Butland and a Michael Olise masterclass, which led to a strong recovery from 1-0 down into an incredible 2-1 win; of course with the addition of South London bragging rights.
This was followed by a wholesome fixture with League Two side Hartlepool United in the fourth round. The 2-0 win was overshadowed, however, by the generosity from the Palace community who helped Hartlepool Manager Graham Lee reach his £60,000 target in a GoFundMe campaign, to cover his wife’s 12-month treatment for a life-threatening brain tumour.
The fifth round saw us take on Stoke City at home. This was a game to forget, after a lacklustre performance from Palace which took a 82nd minute winner from Dutchman, Jairo Riedewald to see us continue in the competition. Riedewald has played an all told 131 minutes in all competitions this season but proved himself as the man of the hour after scoring four minutes after his arrival on the pitch.
However, the South London club can have a real sense of optimism going into Chelsea, after beating Everton 4-0 at home in the quarter finals. After so-called “average” and “fluke” goals from the Palace massive, the home performance shone bright after a nervy start to the game. Marc Guehi broke the deadlock and it was all Palace from then on. Paired with a poor footballing display from Everton, the quarter final performance is rivalled for one of our best of this season so far.
Looking toward the semi final, Chelsea is never an easy game. With a sour record against the West London team following nine defeats on the bounce in the Premier League since 2018, Vieira and the boys have a tough game on their hands.
Palace also have the added hardship of Chelsea loanee and Palace superstar, Conor Gallagher, not being available for the match at Wembley due to Gallagher not being able to face his parent club. The England International has proved himself massively this season and been a real stand-out player in midfield under Vieira, with the inclusion of 8 goals and 5 assists across all competitions this season.
With rumours of Michael Olise and Tyrick Mitchell also out due to injury, Sunday’s game could put Vieira and the boys to the ultimate test. The status of their injuries are waiting to be confirmed.
The Blues run in to a trip to Wembley has not been one of hard viewing for Chelsea fans after facing a string of lower league clubs and securing victory against Chesterfield, Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Middlesbrough, in respective rounds. They enter the semi final with a lot of confidence, having avoided facing Premier League title rivals, Manchester City or Liverpool.
They suffered defeat to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup Final on penalties back in February, which has been accompanied with their decline in the Champions League, suffering a 5-4 defeat on aggregate, in extra time against Real Madrid in the quarter finals, last night. Alongside this, the Premier League title is also out of reach, therefore Chelsea will be looking at the FA Cup as a last chance to take home any silverware this season.
But always remember; anything is possible in the FA Cup.
Now we have a chance to do what we should have done in 2016, but you won’t see Vieira dancing on the touchline…