Such is the magic of the FA Cup, it’s probably madness for me to even try to predict any of this weekend’s results – there will be one or two ‘cupsets’ at least. However, I’m going to give it a go anyway, but to give myself a fighting chance I’ll be selecting just five of the fixtures to preview and predict, involving teams whose form I actually know a little bit about – so despite the tagline of this post, this hopefully won’t be too much random guesswork…
Everton vs. Chelsea (Sat, 12.30pm)
The most important fixture of the round, and not just because I’m an Evertonian. Not only is this a repeat of the 2009 FA Cup Final, but it’s also arguably the last hope of silverware that either club has this season. Chelsea’s form has been so patchy of late that a Premier League fightback looks a distant possibility and on current form the Champions League will be well beyond them. Ancelotti will know he has to deliver some silverware and so he’ll be fielding a strong side, though it won’t include Fernando Torres, not yet at least.
David Moyes will be reading the headlines of Chelsea’s big money offer for the Spanish hitman with no small amount of envy. If there’s one thing Everton need it’s a top class striker, but unlike Chelsea, we just haven’t got the money to procure one. That’s why Everton’s season has been sincerely underwhelming up until this point but Everton have a good record against the top sides this season – we raise out game and they don’t like playing us. This could be a really enthralling clash of two very good and rather desperate sides. I’m going with my heart on this…
Aston Villa vs. Blackburn Rovers (Sat, 1pm)
Another all Premier League clash, and one that sees two teams who are also having rather unexpected seasons. Aston Villa, widely expected to challenge for Europe again (at least until O’Neill jumped ship), have struggled and find themselves too close to the Premier League for comfort. The signing of Darren Bent seems to have created some fresh belief and momentum for them though and they would like little more than a good cup run to restore some good feeling to the club.
Blackburn, on the other hand, have been quietly overacheiving. Their fans would probably admit that they foresaw another season of toil ending at best with mid-table mediocrity and at worst with relegation. In fact, they’re ticking along quite nicely despite the random sacking of Sam Allardyce and they should have a very comfortable second half of the season indeed, if things continue as they are at present. For them the FA Cup will be the icing on that particular cake, but I think Villa will want it a bit more and now have the impetus to get the win here.
Southampton vs. Manchester United (Sat, 5.15pm)
I remember the days when this too would have been an all Premiership affair, and it’s sad that the Saints have been wallowing so far down the football league for so long. However, they’re ticking along nicely in League One this season, and though runaway leaders Brighton seem unlikely to be caught, the Saints are well in with a shout for an automatic playoff place. They have some great young players down at St Mary’s at the moment too, Oxlade-Chamberlain is taking the headlines at the moment, but Adam Lallana can certainly play a bit too.
Not much has changed for United since they last visited Southampton though. Alex Ferguson is still in charge and despite many a personnel change the club still find themselves atop the Premier League table with everything to play for. They haven’t been utterly convincing at times this season but the return of Wayne Rooney seems to have reinvigortaed them (and Berbatov in particular). I feel Ferguson will rest a few players here though, and the hunger of the young Saints may give them a chance. I fancy a replay.
Notts County vs. Manchester City (Sun, 2pm)
Of course, we know all about Man City. Taken over by super rich Arab owners and spalshing some pretty hefty cash in support of their lofty ambitions. It’s taken them some time to really get going but now they’re looking like they may break the top four this season and with others faltering may even be in with a faint shot at the title. Roberto Mancini has solidified his squad with some choice additions and begun to farm out the players he doesn’t want, and he’ll see the FA Cup as a good start in terms of silverware he can bring to the club.
Notts County, are, in some ways, the Man City of the lower leagues, although not really. They too were taken over by a middle eastern consortium who came to England with ambitions of taking the club to the very top. However, like Man City at times, there’s been an air of farce around some of their dealings – the short lived spells of both Sol Campbell and Sven Goran Erriksson at the club probably did more harm than good. Since then though, things have settled down, they won League Two and are now attempting to consolidate in League One under the stewardship of Paul Ince.
The FA Cup is always an adventure for clubs from the lower leagues, but I think it would be more of a distraction for Notts just at the moment, and I think City will overpower them.
Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Sun, 4.30pm)
A further all Premier League fixture in the fourth round of the Cup and a chance for Tottenham to continue their excellent season on all fronts. However, they haven’t won since seeing of Charlton in the last round of this competition with draws against Man Utd and Newcastle, and they have certainly seen their form curtailed a little since the earlier stages of the season. Redknapp has added to his squad already in January, but it seemed that the addition of Pienaar to his midfield may have actually unbalanced the side a little against the Magpies, so his lineup here will be interesting.
Fulham have had one win, one loss and one draw in their last three outings and that really underlines the inconsistency that has been the Cottagers’ main problem this season. Hughes hasn’t been able to make Craven Cottage the stronghold it was under Hodgson and with just one away win all season it’s no wonder they’re nearer the bottom than the top. But the FA Cup represents a new challenge for struggling sides and Sparky will be hoping that a win against high-flying Spurs will not only give them a Cup run to cheer about, it may also ignite some League form. I think they may sneak it.
What do you make of my predictions? Got some of your own? Post them below…
(And incidentally, I’ve chosen five fixtures from the FA Cup 4th Round programme and they have five unique kick off times… what is the world coming to?!)