Paul Merson makes shock claim involving Merseyside derby and Everton's FA Cup semi-final

The midfielder-turned-pundit has implored Roberto Martinez to "show bottle" and rest his major stars against Southampton and Liverpool ahead of Wembley clash.

Paul Merson has made a shock claim to Sky Sports by suggesting that Everton manager Roberto Martinez has to "show bottle" by playing the reserves in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool to save his best players for the FA Cup semi-final.

The Toffees face Manchester United at Wembley on 23 April in what has become the biggest match of their season after a poor campaign has left them with the bare minimum to play for in the Premier League.

That Wembley clash comes just three days after Martinez's side make the short trip across Merseyside to take on rivals Liverpool at Anfield in the Merseyside derby, traditionally one of the biggest fixtures in either club's calender.

Everton have failed to win any of their last five league matches, a run which has increased already-existing pressure on the Spanish manager, and failure to beat either Liverpool or high-flying Southampton on Saturday would see fan unrest build even further.

However, Merson thinks Everton have a clear priority at this stage and has implored Martinez to "show enough bottle" to play a second-string side in those league games to avoid injuries to key players and ensure his first-choice XI is fully rested for the clash with United.

The former Arsenal and Aston Villa midfielder told Sky Sports' Fantasy Football Club podcast: "For Martinez, [Southampton] is a real difficult game. They have the semi-final next week. They play at home to Southampton, and then on the Wednesday night, they have Liverpool away.

"Surely he has to play reserves in both. He's got to show enough bottle to rest everybody and take the flak off the fans, and hopefully beat Man United. If he doesn't... wow.

"I feel sorry for him in these two games because of the timing. He's under pressure from the fans and next week's game will be massive for them. If he shows enough bottle and rests all of them, I think Southampton win, but I don't know if he can rest all of them."

Everton seem nailed on for a second bottom-half finish in a row in the Premier League under Martinez after the former Wigan boss led the club to a first placing outside the top 10 in nine years last season.

The pressure has been steadily building on the manager in recent months after a spate of underwhelming performances and inconsistent results, and there have been suggestions from some quarters that not even FA Cup glory would be enough to qualify the current campaign as a success.

One thing is for sure, however; Everton fans feel they need a light at the end of the tunnel, and booking a spot in the FA Cup final would be that.

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