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Sports

Semi-final dreams hang over Merseyside derby

media Jurgen Klopp has led Liverpool into the last four of the Europa League.. Reuters/Craig Brough

Everton manager Roberto Martinez will take his side across Stanley Park to Anfield on Wednesday hoping for a boost before a more arduous journey to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. For his Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, a European showdown looms against Villareal.

Before those hostilities though, there's the not insignificant issue of city bragging rights.

The Blue zone of Merseyside is looking for a first major trophy in 21 years and a win over their rivals would send them south in good spirits. Success in the FA Cup - the world's oldest football knockout competition - might also just keep jackals from descening on Martinez.

Last weekend's 1-1 draw with Southampton meant Everton have won just 17 out of 51 points at Goodison Park this season and a current league position of 11th place seems a meagre showing given the talent within the squad.

"There are defining weeks for teams all the time in world football," said Martinez on the eve of the clash with Liverpool. "Barcelona have just had one when they were knocked out of the Champions League. "Of course this week is defining but we embrace it and look forward.

"I always say football isn't about managers. My job is to allow my players to enjoy their football, enjoy the opportunity ahead of them and be as good as they can be.

"Then we'll see where it takes us. It's defining for this season of course. Every team has a defining week.

"Ours is mid-April, others had it in February when they went out of the FA Cup. But we're in the semi-final of the Cup and you'll see the best side of our fans and we'll be Everton with an incredible togetherness at Wembley."

Everton rested top scorer Romelu Lukaku and England midfielder Ross Barkley against Southampton.

But the pair could return at Anfield for the 226th derby match between the neighbours.

Liverpool also broach the game with a semi-final on the horizon. Jurgen Klopp's men qualified for the last four of hte Europa League with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund.

In just over a week they take on Villareal aiming for their first piece of European silverware since the Uefa Champions League trophy in 2005. Victory in this season's Europa League would lead to a place in next season's competition.

Klopp, however, was adamant the domestic league remained the priority. "Sometimes rotation is for resting players for another tournament," he said after making 10 changes to his side for the 2-1 win at Bournemouth on Sunday which took place 72 hours after the Dortmund quarter final.

"But for us the most important tournament is always the Premier League; We wanted to win this game against Bournemouth. That's the only reason. That's why we took another formation.

"You cannot rest for another tournament, you can only try to find a few more fit players. That's what we tried to do. Now we have two more Premier League games before our next Europa League game, so we won't be thinking about the Europa League until then."

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