As football fans worldwide continue to familiarize themselves with the “new normal” and viewing the beautiful game without spectators in the stadiums at least we can look forward to some sort of traditionalism as the world’s most famous cup competition resumes after much doubt over its place on the reshuffled football calendar.
Sadly, there has been no fairy-tale story of a famous FA Cup run to this stage of the competition for any lower league sides with Derby County’s exit to Manchester United back in March signalling the end of any such hopes as eight Premier League clubs get set to stand their ground in the quarter-finals this weekend.
While there may be no lower league representation which always makes for a good story, a number of the eight remaining sides have gone a long time without lifting this famous old trophy and will have high hopes of taking advantage of a glorious cup opportunity in these unfamiliar circumstances.
Sheffield United last won the FA Cup in 1925, 1955 was Newcastle’s last success while Norwich and Leicester City have NEVER won the FA Cup and the current fanbase would not have been around for their last FA Cup final appearance. Of the other four remaining sides, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea have won the cup a combined 39 times.
NORWICH CITY v MANCHESTER UNITED – Saturday, 5.30pm – BBC1 (DOUBLE THE ODDS FIRST GOAL SCORER)
This year’s FA Cup quarter-finals get underway at Carrow Road where all eyes will be on the home sides team selection given their league woes at present. The Canaries currently lie six points from safety and with a goal difference of -31 from 31 games many are already consigning City to the Championship next term.
Will Daniel Farke rest players in the hope Norwich can find some sort of form before the curtain comes down on their time in the Premier League or will he put out his strongest XI in the hope of a potential FA Cup upset sparking Norwich into life in the league?
It must be said the German coach doesn’t seem too optimistic of a positive outcome, either way, having been quoted as saying the following after his teams’ recent defeat to Everton:
“We are not naive. We can judge this in a proper way. We are in two competitions, the FA Cup and the league. It’s not realistic for us to stay in this league, it’s not realistic for us to stay in the FA Cup, but as long as we have a chance, we try to be successful in both competitions.”
Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may also be tempted to rotate given his in-form Red Devils head to Brighton on Tuesday still very much in the hunt for Champions League qualification next season.
Unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, a career record for the Norwegian boss, the return to fitness of Paul Pogba combined with the impressive form of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial has seen United spark into life and begin to display signs of the old Manchester United so feared and revered across England and Europe.
Given his side are in such a good vein of form and partnerships such as Fernandes & Pogba and Rashford & Martial seem to not only be growing by the game but now beginning to flourish it could be seen as a major risk to risk the high levels of confidence within the dressing room by making too many alterations to the starting XI against Norwich.
Looking back at the United XI which lined out in the last round away to Tranmere Rovers it’s almost unrecognizable to the Reds side we’ve seen since the resumption of football yet that team still had more than enough quality to see off Tranmere 6-0 on the day and while Norwich City are unlikely to roll over in such a manner their defensive record this season simply will not do here.
Only Aston Villa have shipped more goals in the top-flight this season while the Canaries have only managed to notch 25 goals in 31 league games, the worst goal scoring record in the division. One dreads to think where they might be without front man Teemu Pukki who has scored almost half of those with 11 goals in 31 league appearances. Again, should Norwich decide to rest such key players as Pukki you’d give them even less chance than the already slim odds of causing any sort of an upset against the high-flying Red Devils this weekend.
In truth, when I looked up the latest outright betting for this game I was absolutely shocked to see United available at 1/2, which looks extremely good value to me even if Ole opts to ring the changes.
BEST BET: United to win (1/2)
BEST BET STAT: United have won their last 3 meetings with Norwich and 7 of the last 8 overall.
SHEFFIELD UNITED v ARSENAL – Sunday, 1pm – BT SPORT 1 (DOUBLE THE ODDS FIRST GOAL SCORER)
The first thing that springs to mind when you hear FA Cup and Sheffield United v Arsenal is David Seaman’s incredible save in a 2003 semi-final between the sides as the England goalkeeper produced one of the competitions all-time great stops to deny the Blades a late equaliser and in the process book a 3rd consecutive final appearance for the Gunners.
However, Blades fans will be hopeful of exacting revenge on Sunday as an Arsenal team in near-total disarray visit Bramall Lane.
Mikel Arteta’s side has resumed their season with humiliating back to back defeats against Manchester City and Brighton and with David Luiz being handed a new contract by the club this week supporters are once again asking “what the hell is going on at Arsenal Football Club?”
While Arsenal’s top-four hopes are undoubtedly dead for this season, Chris Wilder’s side still has an outside chance with the freak hawkeye incident against Aston Villa appearing as if it could be very costly to a club already burned by a controversial administration saga when last in the top flight, the Carlos Tevez saga.
However, even should the Blades come up short in hunt of what would be an incredible top-four finish, Europa League qualification is still very much on the cards.
Will the quest for Europe tempt Wilder to shuffle the pack when Arsenal visit on Sunday? It seems unlikely, Wilder is very much a traditionalist when it comes to respecting the values of the FA Cup, and with the Blades having never won the competition the visit of a shaky Gunners to the Lane offers a welcome opportunity to book a spot in the semi-finals.
In saying that, United have certainly struggled to regain the winning thread since the resumption of football, losing two of their three games, failing to score and suffering back to back 3-0 defeats against Newcastle and Manchester United.
The newly-promoted side has been praised for their well-renowned organisation and structure this season but a lack of creativity has been evident in the last three games and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised they’ve only managed 30 goals in the league this season, for contrast relegation-threatened Aston Villa and West Ham have managed 36 and 35 goals respectively.
Recent defeats have damaged the Blades defensive record which now reads as conceding a goal a game and although Arsenal are enduring a very poor season they have scored 13 goals more than their opponents this weekend so Chris Wilder is sure to deliver a message of tightening up at the back to his players if they are to stand any chance of knocking out the competitions most successful club.
A major worry for Arsenal fans has to be their woeful away record this season of just 3 wins in 16 away league matches with Sheffield United holding their own at home with a record of 7 wins from 15 league games at Bramall Lane.
The Blades are unbeaten in their last two head to head meetings with the Gunners who picked up a much-needed tonic with Thursday’s comfortable 2-0 win away to Southampton.
In conclusion, neither side are exactly flying it at the moment but Thursday’s win on the road should have done the world of good in the Arsenal dressing room and with Sheffield United looking as if they are lacking in ideas in recent weeks then a low scoring Arsenal win appears the way to play here.
BEST BET: Arsenal to win and under 4.5 match goals (6/4)
BEST BET STAT: Only once since 1991 has a game between these two sides produced more than 5 goals (Arsenal 6-0 Sheffield United – 2008 League Cup)
LEICESTER v CHELSEA – Sunday, 4.00pm – BT SPORT 1 (DOUBLE THE ODDS FIRST GOAL SCORER)
Chelsea not only took a huge step towards Champions League qualification with their famous win against Manchester City on Thursday night, a win which confirmed Liverpool as Premier League champions, but Frank Lampard’s side also laid down a signal of intent that they are a club on the rise once again and may have a major say in the hunt for trophies in the coming seasons.
Of course, this season’s FA Cup is still very much a realistic goal for Lampard, who is seeking his first major trophy as a manager but a trip to the King Power is never easy even without the passionate Foxes supporters.
Chelsea are now unbeaten in their last five in all competitions and have won their last three while Thursday’s hosts Leicester City have hit a small flat spot since the resumption with drab draws at Watford and most recently at home to Brighton. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by Leicesters lackluster restart given Brendan Rodgers side had only won two of their last seven in all comps before the league was ground to a halt in March.
These two sides met at the start of February with Antonio Rudiger an unlikely dual goal scorer for the Blues on the night with goals from Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell ensuring the points were shared. That result looks a fair indication of how level these teams are at present with Leicester City just one point above Chelsea in the league standings.
In terms of cup performances this season, Leicester have already missed out on a trip to Wembley having failed to see off Aston Villa in the league cup semi-finals while Chelsea fell to Manchester United in the last 16 of the same tournament.
The recent H2H record between the two also points to a potentially tight affair with the last three games ending in a draw with Leicester the last side to claim a win in this fixture, an equally hard-fought 1-0 success at the Bridge in 2018 with Jamie Vardy the match-winner.
The England striker has enjoyed another stellar campaign topping the golden boot chart with 19 league goals and while he’s well clear of Chelsea’s top marksman Tammy Abraham (13) the Blues haven’t fared too badly in the goals for column, notching just four fewer goals than the Foxes.
It’s been at the back where Lampard’s charges have had a notably poorer campaign than this weekends rivals with Chelsea conceding 41 goals in the league compared to Leicesters shrewd tally of just 29 in 31 games, only Liverpool have a better defensive record.
Again, given the jam-packed end of season schedule for these sides and the fact they are still very much focused on Champions League qualification, many punters will wait to see the starting line ups before placing their bets and that makes previewing these games and their potential outcome all the harder.
Looking at the overs/unders market, there hasn’t been more than four goals scored in a game involving the two since a meeting in this competition in 2016, that’s nine games ago. However, there’s no value to be found in this market with under 4.5 goals 2/15 and under 3.5 a short 2/5.
Again, with no absolute certainty over what starting XI both teams may field if you are to look at FA Cup XI’s from earlier in the season you could make the argument Leicester’s is just as strong if not stronger than Chelsea’s back up XI but with the new five subs rule Chelsea’s bench could really have an impact on a game like this.
This certainly has the look of a game best watched but if you have to push me for a best bet selection it would be a draw at 12/5.
NEWCASTLE UNITED v MANCHESTER CITY – Sunday, 6.30pm – BBC1
Recently dethroned champions Manchester City will be looking to replace one trophy with another in their honors cabinet when the travel to St.James Park for an FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday night.
The Citizens have lifted this trophy twice in the past nine years (losing the 2012-13 final in between) while Newcastle supporters haven’t experienced the thrill of a cup final day out since their 1998-99 defeat to Manchester United.
The Toon appears to have all but secured top-flight safety for next season with a top 10 finish very much still a possibility for Steve Bruce while Manchester City looks to have all but wrapped up the runners up berth for 2019-20.
That should allow both of these sides to give the FA Cup a proper good go with City looking to add to their league cup success earlier this term.
Four points from two games since the restart with four goals scored and just one conceded should see the Toon arrive with a relative level of confidence for this cup clash while defensive frailties were once again to the fore as City relinquished their title in defeat at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
Pep Guardiola will surely look to address his back four woes in the upcoming transfer market but what can the former Barca and Bayern chief do in the short term to ensure City finish the season strongly and in the hunt for more silverware?
Oleksandr Zinchenko is likely to replace the man at fault for Thursday’s opening goal Benjamin Mendy while Nicolás Otamendi will surely step in for Fernandinho who saw red at the Bridge in the 2-1 defeat. Neither are exactly what you’d describe as solid defensive options but with the likes of David Silva and Gabriel Jesus likely to start having been second-half substitutes on Thursday then City’s chances of getting away with defensive blips look likely to increase.
Steve Bruce is sure to drum the message of defensive fragility and a lack of concentration among City’s defenders into his players ahead of kick-off and with Joelington finally finding the net in the win over Sheffield United the former Aston Villa boss will be hopeful his team can take any chances that fall their way.
Dwight Gayle was also a welcome goal scorer from the bench in the draw with Villa while the Geordies can once again call on the aerial threat of local boy Andy Caroll who is back to fitness. Make no mistake about it if City aren’t at it Newcastle have the weapons to cause the Sky Blues big problems.
Allan Saint-Maximin is one of those weapons, the winger has been a revelation upon his rival on Tyneside and is already a cult hero among the fans and he could expose the defensive weakness in Zinchenko should he come in for Mendy.
Manchester City players shouldn’t need remaining of Newcastle’s threat given City have failed to win in their last two meetings with the Magpies (1 loss, 1 draw) (However, City did win the three meetings prior and have won five of the last eight overall).
This game tends to be a fairly high scoring affair with three or more goals scored in the last four while City won 5-0 and 6-1 in 2015.
Looking at the match odds, 12/1 about the hosts looks a crazy price for me and if you’re a punter who likes to take a punt on a longshot simply for the value then Newcastle are definitely worth a fiver here with the 1/5 tag on City much shorter than it should be.
However, despite all of Man City’s defensive problems they are yet to lose back to back games this season, and with the attacking options Pep can afford to bring in to freshen up his disheartened stars then the visitors should have enough to see off Newcastle.
Newcastle have found the net against City at least once in their last four meetings and six times in the last seven meaning City to win and both teams to score looks a sensible bet at 6/4.
BEST BET: City to win & BTTS (6/4)
KIERAN BURKE’S WEEKEND ACCA:
Manchester United (to beat Norwich), Manchester City (to defeat Newcastle), Wolves (to defeat Aston Villa) & Barcelona (to defeat Celta Vigo) – €20 returns €106.92
- Always gamble with care
- All prices correct at time of publishing