Everton goes into Saturday's FA Cup final as underdogs riding on a high. After claiming the scalps of two "Big Four" teams -- Manchester United and Liverpool -- en route to the final, it clinched fifth place in the Premier League for the second year running.
Can the Toffees add a third Big Four scalp by beating Chelsea? Manager David Moyes thinks the experience of playing 120 minutes and beating United at Wembley Stadium in the semifinals will prove invaluable: "The match against Manchester United was as close to a final as you can get," he told the BBC this week. "The players have learned from the surroundings there and what to expect on the day."
In Moyes, Everton has a manager with a burgeoning reputation. With a limited budget, he has transformed mid-table also-rans into an established top-six side. No wonder he's the bookmakers' favorite to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
The FA Cup final is Everton's best chance of major silverware since 1995 and Moyes says this is the best Everton squad he has ever had, one in which the players favor the team over individual talent. That's a good quality, because Everton comes into the final shorthanded. Without their main creative force, Mikel Arteta, and main goal-scorer Yakubu Aiyegbeni for the majority of the season, the Toffeemen are also missing defender PhilJagielka for the final.
Yet Everton's small squad continues to perform impressively. U.S. national-team keeper Tim Howard puts a large part of the success down to the team spirit and togetherness of the squad. "If someone came through these doors with a big price tag and a huge ego, they'd get laughed at," he told the BBC. "The guys are so down-to-earth. There are no jerks around the place, it's a fun place to come to work. You know people are going to put their heads down and put some hard work in."
In the other Wembley dugout will be the man in charge of a team full of high-priced players, and a few huge egos. Guus Hiddink has been on the receiving end of gushing praise from his own players and even the oppositions', having turned around Chelsea's season from one that was heading rapidly southward under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Locker-room unrest and fears of not qualifying for the Champions League are now in the distant past.
After the remarkable job the Dutchman has done at Chelsea, John Terry wants to win the trophy as a parting gift for Hiddink. "We all want him to stay -- the players and the fans," the Blues captain told The Guardian, "and it is a shame he is going, but there is only one way to send him off and that is by winning the trophy."
Everton's Tim Cahill, who played under Hiddink during the Dutchman's time as Australian national-team manager, told the BBC, "The caliber and stature of the man speaks for itself. I'm very thankful for what he did in the World Cup. He's honest, stamps his authority. None of his players get a chance to overpower him and you never know if you're going to be in the team or not."
Both teams are talking up their chances of success on Saturday, and both are desperate to win it. The evident tactical know-how of both managers will be tested to the full in what should be a fitting curtain call to the English season and a fitting swan song from English football (for now at least) for Hiddink.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, Team Limey was scouring the adverts in the local newsagent's window. Before deciding that "Honest Jim's Betting Helpline" and "For sale: Millennium Falcon (satellite dish missing)" were both life-enhancing, our beady eyes rested upon "Wanted: World-class midfield, call Old Trafford 0161-868-8000." Buoyed by the chap who sold us the Falcon -- having mistakenly left a one-armed Chewbacca inside -- we imagined making the call to Manchester United.
Team Limey: Hello, are you still looking for a world-class midfield?
Fuming Scot: Aye. I've only got one world-class midfielder -- the winker on the wing -- and after the final, when he was asked if he'd be here next year, he replied, "I don't know." Can ye imagine that? After I kept him in wet-look hair gel for six years.
Team Limey: But you've got the ever loyal Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Fuming Scot: Great lads, I tell ye, but Joe DiMaggio was hitting home runs with Marilyn Monroe when they debuted.
Team Limey: Michael Carrick can hit balls all over the park.
Fuming Scot: Aye, but the boy could nae stick his bat into Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Where were the holes that Michael Essien penetrated when they played Chelsea?
Limey Lawyers: Enough dad-joke innuendos, lads, keep it clean.
Team Limey: Park?
Fuming Scot: For a picnic?
Team Limey: No, Park Ji-Sung. You know, the technically inadequate midfielder who tries hard and generates the club income in Asia.
Fuming Scot: Oh, he's in the car park with Nani, surrounded by suitors from mid-table EPL clubs.
Team Limey: And Anderson?
Fuming Scot: Against the best, the lad offers less drive than the St. Louis Rams offense.
Team Limey: And Hargreaves?
Fuming Scot: Who?
Team Limey: Hargreaves, Owen Hargreaves?
Fuming Scot: Who?
Team Limey: You know, Canadian England international, annoys you by perennially turning up to training late, awful shiny '80s perm.
Fuming Scot: Oh yeah.
Team Limey: Well, he's good.
Fuming Scot: Yeah, one of the best holding midfielders in the world when he's injury-free. Hopefully his knee might get better before Wigan Athletic next wins the EPL title.
Team Limey: But you've got Darren Fletcher.
Fuming Scot: D'ye know what sums this situation up? It's when I have to bleat to the media that I knew Fletcher being suspended was a big loss for us, given he's such a big-game player. I mean c'mon, I only used to play him cuz he's Scottish, now he's one of my mainstays. Sums it up doesn't it, de ye know what I mean son, de ye know what I mean?
Team Limey quietly puts the phone down and moves on to beeping like R2-D2 to keep one-armed Chewie company.
Last time around, we looked into the situation at Arsenal and asked for your views. We were swamped with e-mails from impassioned Gunners fans. Here's a selection of the best comments.
Although Man. United has been more successful than Arsenal in the last four years, many of you point to United's debt-laden balance sheet thanks to the Glazer takeover. Davin Remmington argues, "I suggest that we've done better than Man U considering the financial states of the clubs. Certainly we've done better than Chelsea, who can't buy a title no matter how much they spend."
In a similar vein, Daniel Scarvalone points to the financial headache United will feel in a few years' time: "Interest payments on that debt alone hamper Man U's profitability. So year after year as Arsène [Wenger] pays back that debt, Man U spends [$100 million] each offseason, and next decade when those debts come due, in this financial climate, Man U will find itself in a tough place."
Kevin Shebesta takes pride in Arsenal's thriftiness and believes his good guys of Arsenal will eventually triumph over their big spending rivals: "Should Arsenal spend more? Yes, but not at the expense of financial stability like United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man. City. I take pride in the fact that my team does things the right way without leveraging itself to the hilt. The success that will come in the future will be all the more sweeter!"
Injuries and squad depth to cover those injuries have been the reason for this season's lack of a title challenge, according to Jon Leake of Newton, Kan.: "Injuries to key defensive players highlight the obvious fact that depth is the main villain at Arsenal. [William] Gallas, however volatile, is always strong in the middle. Had Wenger known before the season that he'd go down, perhaps [Philippe] Senderos might have been retained. For me, though, the loss of [Gaël] Glichy was the most damning. Had an admittedly weak defense not shattered and had the [Andrei] Arshavin move been made preseason, you are looking at a much different run out to the season."
Adam Humphrey of Cincinnati sees parallels with Ferguson: "Wenger is simply rebuilding his team now, the way SAF was in 2004 to '06. At that time, Ferguson was abused in the press and many people felt he had lost it. Wenger is doing the same thing. He needs to add a couple of players and a little depth, but then they will be back challenging Man U for the title."
In our next column, we'll be dusting off our tuxedos for our annual appearance at Castle Limey's end of season awards. Send us your nominations for awards, both serious and -- more importantly -- comical, to the usual address: email@example.com.