It’s FA Cup weekend! Which means more clubs will dice with elimination by fielding less than full strength teams on boggy pitches up and down the country. 14 top flight clubs survived round 3, with Arsenal how highest profile fallers so far. With three all Premier League ties to come, we are guaranteed to lose some more this weekend but will anybody fall to a famous cupset? I hate that word. Anyway, let’s analyse the 14 remaining Premier League sides.
Manchester United’s trip to Yeovil was one of the ‘classic’ FA Cup ties to come out of the velvet bag, though the shine is somewhat removed by the fact they met at the 3rd round stage in 2015 (Man Utd won 2-0, stats fans) and it is being played on a Friday night. Yes sure it’s great to have games on TV but I can’t get away with Friday night matches. Fortunately, I support neither team and viewing is entirely optional. Mourinho now has Alexis Sanchez to call upon and it would be borderline cruel to unleash him against struggling League Two opposition, but you have to start somewhere. Either way, I think Man Utd will win and Mourinho will go 90 minutes without smiling.
For the second round in a row we have Leicester on a Saturday lunch time, this time they’re off to Peterborough which…has a train station. The Foxes needed a replay to defeat Fleetwood and got an assist from VAR, and with their league form looking very healthy Claude Puel would be mad not to play a very strong team here. Enjoy Mahrez whilst you have him, would be my cynical advice. Seriously though, I hate to see clubs around the 7th-10th position sidelining the FA Cup. If you can’t have a go from this position, when can you? In to the 3pm games and another league two sides, Notts County, will be sniffy a shock result as they welcome Swansea. A few weeks ago I’d have had the cupset klaxon blaring but Carvalhal has steadied the Swansea ship to the point where they even beat Wolves in the last round which I really didn’t fancy them to do. If Swansea’s form is on the up, Brighton’s is certainly on a downward spiral and they are vulnerable as they visit Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough. Although Boro have promotion to chase the way Pulis sets up will make any eleven he fields tough to break down and I’m not sure Chris Hughton will prioritise this, which might be to his detriment. 2013 winners Wigan shocked Bournemouth after a replay, which we keep being reminded happened when they won the FA Cup 5 years ago. It’s a coincidence lads, don’t worry about it. They might beat West Ham who seemingly have injuries all over the place but haven’t been in terrible form, it might be another replay for the Hammers.
One side who can be quite happy with the draw are Huddersfield, they have a home clash with Championship strugglers Birmingham which is almost the ideal cup draw. Steve Cotterill has his work cut out to keep Birmingham in the second tier and I imagine Huddersfield’s second string are still a competent Championship side, which is more than the Blues can claim to be. Home win. Southampton have a home tie with Watford, who set a record for the quickest sacked/appointed ratio last weekend with the dismissal of Marco Silva and the hiring of Javi Gracia. Not Garcia. Whether that will spur Watford on or upset the dressing room remains to be seen, so I think I’ll be lazy and back the home team. There’s another all Premier League clash at the rather strange kick off time of 7.45pm on Saturday evening, as Liverpool host West Brom. I get that it’s an all Premier League affair but would anybody have lost sleep if this wasn’t on TV? I expect mass changes, after Pardew declares his love for the FA Cup (he made the final once you know) only to bow out to a respectable 2-0 defeat. Liverpool lost at this stage to Wolves last season and I don’t think Klopp will make the same mistake twice.
Sandwiched between the 3pm-ers and the random Anfield showdown is Tottenham’s trip to Newport. Rodney Parade was rocking when Newport came from behind to knock Leeds out in a vintage FA Cup afternoon but they’ll have to be even better here to get anything off Spurs. The one thing you would say is that Spurs didn’t look anywhere near as effective at Southampton when the rain was hosing down and the ball wasn’t zipping off the surface. Give the groundsman the week off and just let nature take it’s course.
Sunday sees our final all Premier League clash, with Newcastle traveling to Chelsea. Again, this is an odd one for TV given than one side is about to spend £50m on Edin Dzeko and the other doesn’t look like spending at all despite the VERY OBVIOUS NEED. Anyway, I’ll be in the away end at Stamford Bridge looking glum but you’ve got to enjoy these things whilst they last. The weekend draws to a close with Premier League leaders (by a mile) Man City making the trip to Cardiff. The old Warnock/Pep contrast will be the main focus of the watching BBC pundits, that and the fact that Man City play beautiful football whilst Cardiff…well Cardiff have Sal Bamba. Espect long throw ins. I hope it rains.
It’s actually quite an intriguing set of fixtures, there’s something for everybody and I think we might see some surprises. I just hope one of them comes at Stamford Bridge. See you for Round 5!