Nothing fills me with more delight than scheduling the FA Cup Quarter Finals directly before an International break. Some teams are subsequently enjoying a three week break, whilst 7 Premier League clubs are one game away from Wembley. Don’t get me started on the semi-finals being at Wembley. Anyway, a phrase I have to come to love is “let’s put lipstick on this pig” or in this scenario, preview the four games that dominate the upcoming weekend.
An important feature of the quarter finals this year is that there are no replays, something which will delight both Swansea and Tottenham before their meeting at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday lunch time. Both sides have been fond of a replay in getting to this stage, whilst both sides are without their talisman strikers for differing reasons. Jordan Ayew will begin his three match suspension whilst Harry Kane is on the treatment table for a month. The cynic in me wonders if both might have been rested anyway but then again Spurs need the FA Cup to make up for their Champions League booboo whilst Swansea would be foolish to rest players with the last four so close. Tottenham will be favourites to reach the last four even if Swansea have home advantage but Kane’s absence didn’t exactly slow them down at Bournemouth on Sunday and Son’s pace on the break will presumably come in to play again. With an International break directly following this I’m not sure the “no extra time” thing will be much of a factor but it’ll probably be a watchable game at the very least.
At the rather unusual time of 7.45pm on Saturday attention will turn to Old Trafford as Man Utd host Brighton. Mourinho’s men were of course dreadful on Tuesday in exiting the Champions League at the hands of Sevilla but what’s done is done and they will enter this as heavy favourites. Brighton’s best form has come at home and their FA Cup run has been fairly kind so far, but I suspect this will be a step too far. Chris Hughton has done a wonderful job and Premier League survival is almost secured, so at least they can approach this with a free hit attitude and hope to catch the Red Devils on another off night but I’m expecting Mourinho to make changes and for his team to come out fighting. It has to be said that the FA Cup has taken on a far greater importance for Man Utd, Chelsea and Tottenham after their Champions League exits, which will make for an interesting semi-final lineup should they all advance.
Into Sunday then and it’s a BBC double header, firstly starring the only Football League representative left in the draw. 2013 winners Wigan will play host to Southampton who will be lead by Mark Hughes, who has been appointed as the replacement for Mauricio Pellegrino, who was sacked on Monday. Had that change not taken place I would really fancy Wigan to get a result here but we all know of the new manager bounce/honeymoon period, call it what you want as long as the team is willing they will play for their new manager. Southampton’s squad is better than 17th in the Premier League in my opinion and I would be surprised if they went down, especially now, so whilst Hughes would probably rather just have the league to focus on the reality is that he is one game away from a trip to Wembley which could really provide some cheer for Saints fans who have had a trying season so far. There is no substitute for winning football matches so I’m expecting a really professional Southampton performance here. Wigan have had a brilliant run and of course caused one of the biggest shocks in recent history by knocking out Man City in the last round, so they are certainly capable of winning again but I just think this will be a step too far, especially with the League One promotion race hotting up.
The final action of Sunday will come from The King Power Stadium at 4.30pm, with Chelsea visiting Leicester. As mentioned earlier, Chelsea were beaten by Barcelona on Wednesday to end their Champions League hopes and they have a real scrap on to get back into the top 4 this season, so whilst the FA Cup is a route to silverware and a face saving exercise for Conte, the top 4 will doubtless be the priority. I really fancy Leicester here, I’ve been tipping them all the way through as the sort of side who if they play to their best can beat anybody and in Riyad Mahrez they have a real match winner. It seems obvious that not everything is right in the Chelsea dressing room, whether it be Conte and the owners or some of the players I don’t know, but they are in need of a lift after the Barcelona defeat and they will have to raise themselves here in the feverish atmosphere the King Power can generate. Leicester sit 8th in the table and whilst they will be pushing for 7th to try and claim a Europa League place (which will become available if a Champions League side wins the FA Cup) but they could of course get in via a cup win, which is potentially 3 wins away.
There’s a decent story behind all four games, whether it be big clubs in need of a performance after recent disappointments or a real chance for sides to salvage their season with a Wembley trip. I’m actually quite looking forward to it despite my grumpy introduction, but that’s because it’s the greatest cup competition in the world. Enjoy it and I’ll be back for the semi finals