Managers shrug off drama

The pain is evident in the body language of Everton duo Muhamed Besic (sitting) and Bryan Oviedo after the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on Wednesday. Roberto Martinez has challenged his side, suffering their worst season at home in the 138-ye
The pain is evident in the body language of Everton duo Muhamed Besic (sitting) and Bryan Oviedo after the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on Wednesday. Roberto Martinez has challenged his side, suffering their worst season at home in the 138-year history, to target the FA Cup, their first major trophy in 21 years.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jobs at risk, but both van Gaal, Martinez in agreement that their focus is on the teams

LONDON • Losing today's FA Cup semi-final could result in either Roberto Martinez or Louis van Gaal losing his job. But both the Everton and Manchester United managers played down the pressure ahead of the Wembley showdown.

"I wouldn't be professional if I would be using my time on talking about what people think and what the feeling is around the manager," Toffees boss Martinez told a press conference yesterday - two days after his side were embarrassed by a 0-4 loss at Liverpool.

"My position is to use the time as well as we can to prepare the team, to get everyone ready for the next game. The turnaround has been very, very quick but all that matters is how quickly we can get focused for the semi-final," added the Spaniard, who arrived at Goodison Park in 2013.

"We've been working very hard since I arrived at the football club to be able to be at Wembley, to be very close to challenging for silverware, and that's the opportunity we have."

Everton's worst season at home in their 138-year history has led to speculation over Martinez's future at the club. And he has challenged his injury-hit team to put their poor Premier League form behind them in a bid to take a big step towards a first major trophy in 21 years.

Defeat at Anfield meant Everton have gone seven games without a league victory. To complicate matters, both full-back Seamus Coleman and skipper Phil Jagielka have hamstring problems.

Meanwhile central defender John Stones faces a fitness test after coming off with stomach cramps against Liverpool, and experienced midfielder Gareth Barry has a groin problem.

Everton will definitely be without Ramiro Funes Mori after the centre-back was sent off for a reckless challenge on Liverpool's Divock Origi, leaving Martinez with only left-back Leighton Baines as senior defender.

But, such is the significance of today's match that Martinez, who guided Wigan to a shock 1-0 win over Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final, could yet gamble on Jagielka's fitness.

"Medically I wouldn't expect Phil to be fit," he said, "but knowing him he wants to try everything possible and we're not going to say no. We will treat his feelings rather than the injury."

Van Gaal has dealt with injury crises and "must-win" games throughout a troubled season.

He has soldiered on despite United crashing out of the Champions League group stages and serving up some turgid football earlier in the season when they fell out of the title race.

But, with United favourites to lift the FA Cup and still just two points behind fourth-placed Manchester City in the Premier League eague, van Gaal insisted that his side have progressed.

"We are further than last year," said the Dutchman. "Then it was the quarter-final, now it is the semi-final. It means we are better than last year.

"We are in the semi-final and still in the race for fourth. That was our aim."

United finished fourth in the league last season and van Gaal denied that the FA Cup is more important than securing a place in the Champions League next term.

"I have said for the club it is much more important that we are finishing in the first four positions because the Champions League is the highest level," he said.

"But a trophy is of course fantastic, especially the FA Cup, as it has been a lot of years since we won it. There is a big (response) among the fans. It is nice to see they are hungry to get the FA Cup, but still we have to beat Everton first."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Managers shrug off drama'. Print Edition | Subscribe