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FA Cup trivia: What teams were involved in the second strongest FA Cup semi-finals and in what year?

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    efore beating Manchester United, Everton beat Aston Villa and Liverpool. They are going to play against Chelsea on 30 May. That means, if they will able to win the Cup, the four teams out of the first five in Premier League table will be beaten by them on the road," notes Firat Topal, speaking on behalf of a number of Everton fans who emailed us this week. "Has this ever happened before? Has any team ever had to take a tougher road to winning the FA Cup?

    Where to start with this one. Perhaps the clearest way would be to first establish a points system, whereby a team's opponents' final league positions (from 1-92 and beyond if necessary) are converted into points. By that criteria a team with the lowest Total Toughness Rating™ can be considered to have had the hardest Cup run (no, it doesn't take away games into account or the league positions at the time of the Cup ties, but this is going to be complicated enough as it is). Everton's Total Toughness Rating™ this season - were they to beat Chelsea, and assuming teams remain in their current league positions - would be worked out thusly:

    Macclesfield 88 points

    Aston Villa 5 points

    Middlesbrough 18 points

    Liverpool 2 points

    Manchester United 1 point

    Chelsea 3 points

    TOTAL 117 points (or an average of 19.5)

    Chelsea's, in contrast would be:

    Southend 52 points

    Ipswich 29 points

    Watford 36 points

    Coventry 35 points

    Arsenal 4 points

    Everton 6 points

    TOTAL 162 points (or an average of 27.6)

    So of the previous 127 Cup winners has anyone had a harder ride than David Moyes side? On this statistical criteria, we've turned up plenty and below are a handful of examples. Let's turn the clock back exactly 100 years to Manchester United's victory in 1908-09:

    Brighton (18th in the Southern League) 58 points

    Everton 2 points

    Blackburn 4 points

    Burnley 34 points

    Newcastle 1 point

    Bristol City 8 points

    TOTAL: 107 points

    And, particularly impressively, to United's Cup win in 1947-48:

    Aston Villa 6 points

    Liverpool 11 points

    Charlton 13 points

    Preston North End 7 points

    Derby 4 points

    Blackpool 9 points

    TOTAL 50 points

    United's 1998-99 victory (suggested by one Red in the Guardian office), also weighs in at a Total Toughness Rating™ of 79 (Middlesbrough 9th, Liverpool 7th, Fulham 45th, Chelsea 3rd, Liverpool 2nd and Newcastle 13th). More recently, Arsenal in 2001-02 can claim a TTR™ lower than Everton's:

    Watford 34 points

    Liverpool 2 points

    Gillingham 32 points

    Newcastle 4 points

    Middlesbrough 12 points

    Chelsea 6 points

    TOTAL 90 points

    So can Everton's city rivals, Liverpool, in 1985-86:

    Norwich 23 points

    Chelsea 6 points

    York City 51 points

    Watford 12 points

    Southampton 14 points

    Everton 2 points

    TOTAL 108 points

    And 2005-06:

    Luton Town 30 points

    Portsmouth 17 points

    Manchester Utd 2 points

    Birmingham 18 points

    Chelsea 1 point

    West Ham 9 points

    TOTAL 77 points

    But all this does seem rather unfair on the Toffees. As Gareth fears, it's that third round tie against Macclesfield that is skewing their stats. Indeed, replace the Silkmen with a mid-table Championship side and Everton would dip very close to Liverpool's '06 Total Toughness Rating™. It's only fair, then, that we try another tack — has any side won the Cup having beaten four of the top-flight's top five?

    You can see above that Manchester United beat three of the top four in 1909, and in 1948 beat six of the league's top 13. The 11-time Cup winners also beat four of the top nine in 1998-99. Arsenal beat three of the top six — Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool — in 2001/02. In 1895-96, Sheffield Wednesday beat three of the top five — Everton, Bolton and Sunderland. In 1905-06, Everton themselves beat three of the top four — Preston, Wednesday and Newcastle — on the way to the trophy. In 1951-52, Newcastle United beat Aston Villa (6th) at St James's Park and Tottenham (2nd), Portsmouth (4th) and Arsenal (3rd) and the mid-table second division teams of Blackburn and Swansea on the road.

    But no one, according to the Knowledge's in-depth it's-taken-us-all-ruddy-day research, has beaten four of the top of five en route to the Cup. Of course, if Everton themselves pip Villa to fifth place, they'll deny themselves a potential place in history. Does that mean a victory for Moyes' boys on 30 May would be the hardest-earned Cup win ever? That's open to debate, but it would certainly stake a decent claim.

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