This Saturday sees one of the biggest days on the club calendar, as a host of domestic cup competitions reach boiling point across Europe. With the likes of Juventus, Vitesse Arnhem, Zulte Waregem, Lokomotiv Moscow, Arka Gdynia, Linfield and Bala Town having already clinched their respective trophies, destiny awaits the finalists of the FA Cup, Scottish Cup, Copa del Rey, Coupe de France and DFB-Pokal on an action-packed Saturday, so climb aboard for a whistle-stop tour of the continent, as we cast our eye at the key cup clashes ahead.
Celtic vs Aberdeen
Hampden Park, Glasgow
15:00. After an early wobble in Europe, Celtic’s first season under Brendan Rodgers could hardly have gone any better, with the Bhoys completing an unbeaten Scottish Premiership campaign with a record-breaking 106 points. Now, with a trophy treble on the horizon, the Hoops are ready to tackle Aberdeen, in a rematch of November’s Scottish League Cup Final (a match the all-conquering Celts won by three clear goals to nil). As one might well expect, the Hoops will make the short trip to Scotland’s national stadium as clear favourites to claim their 37th Scottish Cup. Nevertheless, while Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United campaign has been a stop-start affair, namesake Adam has been firing in the goals in for Aberdeen all season. A few at this timely stage would at least give the Dons a fighting chance, as the Pittodrie side attempts to secure their first Scottish Cup since 1990, when they beat the Celts on penalties.
Chelsea vs Arsenal
Wembley Stadium, London
17:30. The 11th Chelsea manager to pit his wits against Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte could become only the second to complete a league and FA Cup double, should the Blues get by Arsenal at Wembley. A rematch of the 2002 final, Chelsea will be hopeful of a better outcome this time out, having previously fallen to a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. The 2002 showpiece saw the Gunners set the table for their own domestic double; and while fortunes have faded for Wenger’s boys since, a weekend upset under the arch could prove just the tonic, rousing a an Arsenal fanbase still ruing their failure to secure a Champions League place. While question marks will hover over the future of manager Wenger, Arsenal’s Wembley record under his management is a strong one, with seven wins at the national stadium since April 2014. Will Saturday belong to the Gunners, or is another Blue Day ahead?
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Borussia Dortmund
19:00. The next major final of the day will be in Germany, where Eintracht Frankfurt are in hot pursuit of their fifth all-time DFB-Pokal trophy… albeit their first in almost 30 years. Frankfurt’s path to the final has been a bumpy one, needing successive penalty shoot-outs to see off third tier 1. FC Magdeburg and second division FC Ingolstadt, before coming from behind to win in Hannover. In the semi-finals, there was even more spotkick drama, with both Frankfurt and opponents Borussia Mönchengladbach dispatching their full quota. Ultimately, Eintracht goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky made two crucial stops in sudden death to be the difference maker. Should Saturday’s showdown with Borussia Dortmund go the distance, one might fancy the Eagles, but the beloved boys in yellow and black will be their toughest test to date and will be itching to undo the hurt of three consecutive DFB-Pokal cup final defeats.
Coupe de France
Angers vs Paris Saint-Germain
Stade de France, Saint-Denis
20:00. Knocked unceremoniously off their perch as Ligue 1 champions after four consecutive titles, Paris Saint-Germain will look to complete a domestic cup double on Saturday evening, having already clinched the Coupe de la League with a 4-1 victory over Monaco in April. Ominously, the Coupe de France holders booked their place at the Stade de France final without conceding a single goal, notching a formidable 22 of their own along the way. Hoping to challenge PSG’s dominance on the domestic knockout front, opponents Angers SCO will be appearing in the Coupe de France final for the first time since their formation, some 98 years ago. While the Parisians won both of the club’s Ligue 1 encounters 2-0 this past season, the one-off nature of a cup final can be ultimate leveller. Can Angers make more history?
Copa del Rey
Barcelona vs Alaves
Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid
20:30. Eager to shrug off the disappointment of relinquishing their Primera Division crown, Barcelona will look to wrap up their third successive Copa del Rey in Saturday’s final final; and solidify their position as the tournament’s all-time most successful side. In contrast, opponents Alaves will be contesting their first ever Spanish cup final, though Liverpool fans will remember the Babazorros well from the 5-4 extra-time thriller they contested in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final. For Alaves fans, Saturday’s final signifies the latest chapter in a remarkable revival. Having sunk as low as the third tier of Spanish football, promotions in 2013 and then 2016 would restore the club’s La Liga status, but few could have expected the success story that would unfold across their first season back. Alaves’ 2016-17 campaign has already been described as a fairytale – could they deliver the happiest of endings? AC