Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: Semi prose

If semi-finals in England and Scotland weren't enough, we've got El Clasico and Steve Evans too.

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It’s the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.

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All times are UK


League One: Oxford United v Stevenage
20.00 on Sky Sports Football
Even though he won’t be on the touch line, Steve Evans has somehow contrived to make this fixture peak Steve Evans. Truly, Evans has made managerial shithousery an art form for both employers and opposition alike. Having led Stevenage to a nearly unlikely play-off spot that’s still Mathematically Possible, Evans swiftly departed for a second stint at recently relegated Rotherham. You can read a lot into any club that employs Evans even if, begrudgingly, conceding that he’s a decent lower league coach. Stevenage, who have a bit of a habit of employing wind-up merchants in the dugout, can be happy with their lot overall this season, as can Oxford, who will be hoping the loss of Evans combined with Stevenage’s players being two matches away from beach holiday time, will give them a straightforward three points and put them in pole position to secure the final play-off spot next weekend. This should, by rights, be the narrative for this match, but Evans has managed to make this preview and no doubt all the pre-match build up all about him. It’s doubtful Evans reads the Boxset, but I’m sure he’ll be happy we’ve decayed a couple of hundred words about Steve Evans being Steve Evans. GA


Scottish Cup semi-final: Aberdeen v Celtic
12.30 on BBC Scotland & iPlayer and Premier Sports 1
This week, Aberdeen announced Jimmy Thelin, head coach of Swedish side Elfsborg, as their new manager. He won’t be in charge at Hampden Park today but will take over when the Allsvenkan breaks for the summer internationals in June. Neil Warnock was in charge to get the Dons through the quarter-finals by beating Kilmarnock but his otherwise poor spell as interim head coach ended almost immediately afterwards. Keeping the seat warm for Thelin is Peter Leven in his second spell of the season as caretaker. Despite failing to escape the bottom half of the table before the split, his period in charge has seen an upturn in results, putting some daylight between themselves and the relegation play-off spot. Celtic also have some breathing space at the top of the table with Rangers stumbling in their last three games before the split. May promises a dramatic finish to the Scottish season with both of the Old Firm sides chasing the double. A potential first Scottish Cup final between the Glasgow giants since 2002 will come just two weeks after what looks to be a title-deciding league game at Celtic. In the other semi-final Rangers face 2012 winners Hearts. That match is on Sunday at 15.00, and is being shown on Premier Sports. GS

FA Cup semi-final: Manchester City v Chelsea
17.15 on BBC One & iPlayer
A penalty shootout defeat to Real Madrid in their Champions League quarter final on Wednesday night means it won’t be back to back trebles for City. They are favourites to retain their league title and we could also have a repeat of last year’s Manchester derby Cup final. That all depends if they can put that Champions League exit behind them and finally beat Chelsea this season, at the third time of asking. Cole Palmer played for City the last time the sides met in this competition, in the third round last season; a comfortable 4-0 win at the start of their road to the trophy. Palmer has had an incredible break-out season since joining Chelsea at the end of August; his latest display seeing him score four against Everton on Monday taking his Premier League total to 20 goals, level with Haaland. The two sides met in an FA Cup semi-final as recently as 2021; Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel winning 1-0 before beating them again by the same scoreline in the Champions League final later in the month. Beyond the chase for silverware, the broader subtext behind this game will be the FA’s decision this week to do away with replays at all stages of the competition proper from next season, in a bid to alleviate fixture congestion for top clubs caused by the expansion of European competitions. The announcement and its nature as a joint statement with the Premier League has caused outcry amongst fans and EFL clubs. The timing is also interesting, given the FA negotiated the new TV deal more than two months ago with TNT, the broadcaster with blanket coverage of European competitions. It seems inconceivable that the idea wasn’t part of either the bid or the offer. It’s a decision we’ll discuss at length on next week’s podcast. GS

Premier League: Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal
19.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
This time last week Arsenal were still in the Champions League and the fate of this season’s Premier League was in their own hands. On Wednesday night, they were knocked out of Europe’s premier competition in an away defeat to Bayern Munich, a disappointment that came just days after seemingly handing the title to City with a home defeat to Aston Villa. At least for Arsenal fans their club wasn’t the only English side to fail in Europe, effectively ending the hopes of the Premier League gaining a fifth Champions League spot, meaning that Tottenham will now have to show up against City when they meet next month. European football would have been just reward for Gary O’Neil in a tremendous first season in charge at Wolves. Even with their recent drop-off in results, O’Neil’s side would be in the Conference League place had a number of questionable VAR overturns not happened. That position is held by Manchester United, themselves beneficiaries of an admitted error against Wolves, which on its own makes it even more disrespectful that O’Neil should, last month, have been linked with joining United as part of the coaching set-up (presumably working under Gareth Southgate). All rumours have been denied but two successful seasons in charge of Premier League clubs should rightly see him linked with better roles in future should Wolves not wish to back him or decide they fancy someone more - as what happened at Bournemouth. GS


Premier League: Everton v Nottingham Forest
13.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
It’s difficult to know where to start with this relegation battle, because I have absolutely no idea where either side will end up come the end of the season. While they may be justified, the points deductions have added an element of confusion, especially when appeals could take place after the final ball of the season has been kicked. Anyway, here we are in what can only be described as a relegation minus six pointer. It’s sad to see illustrious names such as Everton and Forest, so rich in history and tradition, involved in a tie mired in relegation uncertainty and fiscal controversy. While today’s hosts have home advantage, plus a point and a place over the visitors, they will also be nursing a hangover from Monday night’s 6-0 drummingat the hands of Chelsea. Bouncing back from such a humiliation can be tough, especially with so much at stake. Their last home game was a win against relegation certainties, Burnley, but was their first in nearly four months, so I’m not sure that really counts. However, Forest have been picking up points of late (as well as having them deducted) which definitely does. Prediction? Well, it looks like it has score-draw written all over it. JB

FA Cup semi-final: Coventry City v Manchester United
15.30 on ITV1 & ITVX and STV
By January 1990 Alex Ferguson’s job was on the line. After three years at Manchester United, the former Aberdeen boss had failed to restore the club to the prominence it had not enjoyed since the Busby heyday. Popular myth tells us that if United had lost to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest at the City Ground in the third round of the FA Cup, Ferguson would be fired. His job was saved in part from a deceptive cross from Mark Hughes which met the head of 20 year old striker Mark Robins to put United a goal up. United went on to win the tie and then the Cup itself and the rest is history. Robins, of course, is the Coventry manager and the above story is being told elsewhere, as it should. Robins’ presence in the City dugout serves as a reminder to United fans of what they regained and subsequently lost. This match is another high point in his 8 year spell at the Sky Blues, a club that has suffered relegation, homelessness and financial turmoil since their relegation from the Premier League in 2001. When Robins rejoined the club in 2017 they were a League Two side. He guided them back to the Championship picking up an EFL Trophy along the way. Only last season the City fans were back at Wembley, losing to Luton on penalties in the play-off final; so there is plenty of narrative about this game and no small amount of intrigue. The bookies should have United as favourites but Erik ten Hag’s team can be utterly dreadful for prolonged periods in games. If Coventry leave nothing behind then there is a chance of a famous victory and another difficult day for a United manager whose job is on the line. TD

La Liga: Real Madrid v Barcelona
20.00 on LaLigaTV and Premier Sports 1
My first conversation about tonight’s fixture went something like this: “Hey, it’s the Classico on Sunday - you watching?” “Oooh, that’ll be good. Is it on ITV?” “No, Premier Sports!” Sigh! Still, if you have Premier Sports, or know someone who has, this encounter is mandatory viewing. Fresh (or maybe not) from a gruelling set of Champions League ties, Spain’s big two come together for the final time this season. It’s advantage Real in many ways: eight points clear and full of confidence with the manner in which they despatched Manchester City midweek. Ancelotti maintains that his squad are physically fine following the encounter, which may be true, or may be mind-games designed to get at a Barca side who showed what losing your head can do to a match. Araujo’s sending off against PSG undoubtedly changed the game and Xavi’s dismissal for what appeared to be an assault on a cushion, spectacularly failed to steady the ship. To be fair, the Catalans did show some steel, but ultimately, they couldn’t cope with a side bristling with attacking talent when it mattered. This, I fear, is where they may come unstuck this evening. Will the loss of Xavi’s unbeaten streak at PSG turn into back to back defeats… probably. JB

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Graham, Terry, Jan and Gary

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