You Bet | South China Morning Post
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  • Feb 2, 2015
  • Updated: 1:00am

You Bet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2007, 12:00am

The FA Cup final rarely features the best two teams in England and, while the romantics may be disappointed by the absence of a real underdog, today's showdown between Manchester United and Chelsea is a contest befitting the FA Cup's long-overdue return to Wembley.


United came out on top against Chelsea in the title race, and the stats suggest that they hold the upper hand again in this one-off contest. The last five champions to reach the FA Cup final have completed the double, the last to fail being Liverpool against Wimbledon in 1988. Since then, in 16 finals involving two top-flight clubs, the higher-placed team at the end of the league season have come out on top in the final on 12 occasions. United suffered a reverse in 1995, when they finished second in the Premiership but were beaten in the FA Cup final by 15th-placed Everton, but in 10 all-Premiership finals since then the lower-placed club have triumphed only once (when Michael Owen's two late goals for Liverpool upset Arsenal in 2001).


There is little to choose between United and Chelsea on overall league form, and both of their league meetings this season ended all-square, so it would not be a surprise if the final went to extra time (and even penalties again) for a third straight year.


Chelsea, though, have serious injury problems, with Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko all ruled out and doubts over several other players. Gary Neville is a notable absentee for United, but they have coped pretty well without him in recent weeks and their key players are available. That should give the edge to United.


Wednesday's Champions League final is another showdown between familiar foes, as it features a rematch of the memorable 2005 final between AC Milan and Liverpool. Milan are favourites to gain revenge for that reverse in Istanbul, when they held a 3-0 lead at half-time but were pegged back by three second-half goals in five minutes and eventually lost on penalties. Milan, though, could be overrated on the basis of their 3-0 home win over a weakened Manchester United in the semi-final. Overall, Milan look weaker now than in 2005, particularly in attack, where they lack the pace and finishing ability of Hernan Crespo, who ran Liverpool ragged in the first half of the 2005 final.


Liverpool, meanwhile, are a better-balanced side than in 2005, and Rafael Benitez is unlikely to repeat the tactical errors that almost cost his side dearly in Istanbul. Benitez must have a plan to stop Kaka, who is Milan's main threat, and success in that area will hold the key.


Good bets are thin on the ground in the European leagues, but French champions Lyon are interesting on the Asian handicap for their game at Monaco. Lyon have a poor record in this fixture but they have been far superior to Monaco this season.


Handicap: Lyon.


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