The Premier League’s top four teams are playing against one another in this FA Cup weekend, as Man City play Chelsea while Arsenal host Liverpool. It is guaranteed that a Championship club will reach the quarter-finals, as Sheffield Wednesday play Charlton, and the lowest ranked side left, League One Sheffield United, have a winnable home tie against Nottingham Forest.
Sunderland vs. Southampton
Of these two, Southampton are the team who could benefit most from FA Cup success. Sunderland are already in the final of the League Cup, and are deeply embroiled in a relegation battle. Southampton are eight games unbeaten, almost guaranteed to finish in the top half of the Premier League, and Mauricio Pochettino will look to chase silverware to add gloss to their campaign. Southampton have a wealth of talented players in their squad, most notably Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana, but Sunderland seem to be reliant on a good performance from Adam Johnson. This will be the fourth time these teams meet this season, but Southampton can record their first win against Sunderland from another long trip up to Wearside. 1-2.
Cardiff vs. Wigan
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer|
There might be a division between these two clubs, but if the impact their respective new managers have made is anything to go by, there is not a gulf in class by any means. If the Premier League season started when Solskjaer took over at Cardiff, they would be seven points adrift of safety. If the Championship season started when Rosler took the reins at Wigan, they would be near the automatic promotion places. The quality of these two squads is very similar, and the sturdiness of Wigan’s defence means they should be able to earn a replay, in a close contest. 1-1.
Sheff Wed vs. Charlton
The winners of this all-Championship contest will be just one game away from a trip to Wembley. Reaching the quarter finals will be a great achievement for either of them, given that they have spent most of the season struggling in a relegation battle. Sheffield Wednesday were unbeaten in eleven, before they fell to a 3-0 home defeat to Wigan on Tuesday. Charlton, on the other hand, have lost their last four in the league and currently sit inside the relegation places. Wednesday are in much better overall form, and have recently brought in a few loanees to freshen up their squad, most notably striker Leon Best. Home advantage could see the Owls through. 1-0.
Man City vs. Chelsea
Time for Manchester City to prove their invincibility at home. They now have Chelsea and Barcelona at the Etihad in the space of three days, before their return to league action. It was only a couple of weeks ago that this fixture was played in the league – Chelsea won 1-0 - and City will want revenge for that defeat. The other factor is Chelsea dropped points in the title race in midweek, conceding a late equalizer at West Brom, after Branislav Ivanovic put them ahead. The hosts have had all week to prepare for their next two matches, which will define their chances of winning multiple honours this season. 2-1.
Everton vs. Swansea
A surprise result could be on the cards here, as Roberto Martinez faces his old club. So far, Garry Monk seems to have improved performances at Swansea, with a respectable four points from two games. Everton meanwhile, have gone off the boil lately, with just one win in their last four league games, although two of them were against Liverpool and Tottenham. These are two teams who try to play positive, possession football. Wilfried Bony is a quality striker for Swansea, and he has the ability to have an impact, in what could be an entertaining contest. 1-2.
Sheff Utd vs. Nottm Forest
Sheffield United might be the lowest-ranked side in the FA Cup, but they are not to be underestimated, as Nigel Clough’s side have already beaten Premier League opposition twice. Their main problem in the league has been goals, with young centre-back Harry Maguire in fact being their top scorer. They do have a couple of games in hand on those above them in the relegation battle, and a squad with much potential, so they should get out of trouble. After a big league win at Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest are now just five points away from the automatic promotion places in the Championship, although they have just lost midfielder Henri Lansbury to a long-term injury. The outcome of this one might well be a replay. 1-1.
Arsenal vs. Liverpool
Liverpool are just three points behind Arsenal. They look, potentially, to be gate-crashing the Premier League title race, as Daniel Sturridge has now scored in eight consecutive games. The Reds recently beat Arsenal 5-1 in the league just a week ago, and that result might have damaged morale for Arsene Wenger’s side. They played with very little confidence against Manchester United on Wednesday, and tend to struggle against the big teams. The other factor is, Arsenal have got to play Bayern Munich on Wednesday, whereas Liverpool have not got to play in Europe this year, so a run in the cup will serve only to build confidence. 1-2.
Brighton vs. Hull
Brighton have kept an impressive eight clean sheets since mid-December. They are building their Championship play-off push on an ability to control games, and restrict their opponents to limited time on the ball. Hull are just three points above the Premier League drop zone, but going out of the cup would not benefit them at all. Steve Bruce's side have lost five out of seven league games since New Year, scoring just three times, and losing again on Monday could create a downward cycle of momentum. Combined, these two teams have scored a total of fifty-seven goals from fifty-six games, so this could be a bore draw. 0-0.
The big games in the Championship this weekend, are at the bottom. We have another Yorkshire Derby as Doncaster, who have developed some good home form over recent weeks, host a Barnsley side who have only won once away. Bolton will be looking to put an end to their slide towards the bottom when they travel to Millwall, who have got off to a rather uninspiring start under Ian Holloway, with just one win in six. At the top, Burnley have the opportunity to open up a six point lead over third place if they win at Bournemouth, with QPR not playing play-off contenders Reading until Sunday.
Birmingham vs. Huddersfield
With more solid away performances, Birmingham took three points from two games, with a win at Charlton and narrow defeat to Watford. Now, the Blues have surely got to put an end their run of ten games without a home win. Huddersfield’s away form is hardly more impressive. They have lost five of their last six on the road, and Nahki Wells has not quite built on scoring twice in his first two appearances, with no goals in four since. Huddersfield tend to play with three at the back, and that might give Birmingham’s key man, Chris Burke, a chance to create space down the right wing. Lee Clark will come up trumps against Huddersfield, his former club. 2-1.
Bournemouth vs. Burnley
In the reverse fixture back in November, Tokelo Rantie scored a peach with his first goal for Bournemouth, as the Cherries took a surprise point at Turf Moor. Little has changed in four months. Bournemouth are still midtable, Burnley are still serious promotion contenders, and Tokelo Rantie has only netted once in eleven appearances since that day. Due to his lack of contribution, Eddie Howe has recently signed Yann Kermorgant to compete to play up front with Lewis Grabban, but Kermorgant has not completed ninety minutes for them yet. Danny Ings and Sam Vokes for Burnley, who have stayed injury free thus far, is looking a more threatening strike-partnership than any pairing Bournemouth can put out. 1-2.
Doncaster vs. Barnsley
This is the twelfth of twenty Yorkshire Derbies this season, and one of the most important we’ll see. A win for Doncaster, who have played more games than those below, would take them eight points clear of the drop zone, and maintain some strong home form from Paul Dickov’s side. The Rovers have not scored in either of their last two games, but that was against organized sides in Middlesbrough and Brighton. The main problem is a three match suspension to Billy Sharp, who is their best bet in terms of goals, with Chris Brown not scoring many and Theo Robinson struggling with an injury. A second away win of the season for Barnsley would give them real hope of staying in this league, as the Tykes have two games in hand on Millwall, who they play next Saturday. Chris O’Grady continued his scoring form with another goal against Ipswich last week, but the Tykes could not hold onto a two goal lead. Doncaster will grab a third home win of the year, and edge towards Championship survival. 1-0.
Ipswich vs. Blackpool
This will be a long nine-hour round trip for Blackpool fans, and if their current away form is anything to go by, it could feel even longer. The Tangerines have lost each of their last seven games on the road, although they did manage to rescue a home point against Nottingham Forest last time out. By contrast, Ipswich’s home record is impressive. Since Mick McCarthy took over last November, they have won eighteen out of a possible thirty-one league games at Portman Road. To boot, the Tractor Boys now have a striker playing with confidence in David McGoldrick, who has netted three in three. A form striker is a commodity Blackpool do not have at the moment, and outside the relegation places, only Doncaster have scored less goals than Barry Ferguson’s new side. Comfortable home win. 2-0.
Millwall vs. Bolton
Two teams who are dangerously close to the relegation zone. Both Barnsley and Charlton have two games in hand on these sides, making this match something of a ‘must win’. Millwall have only won one game in six since Ian Holloway took over. Steve Morison managed to score his fifth goal of the season to grab a point late on at Yeovil on Tuesday, but generally, the Bristolian has hardly had the typical ‘new manager’ impact. Bolton could change their boss, too. Dougie Freedman is now under pressure, after another defeat to Lancashire rivals Burnley. Given the overall quality of Bolton’s squad, they should not be anywhere near the relegation zone, regardless of the financial problems. 1-1.
Watford vs. Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough have probably picked the wrong time to be signing a goalkeeper, as Aitor Karanka has brought in Tomas Mejias from Real Madrid’s B side. But Boro have kept eight clean sheets from their last ten matches, each of which veteran keeper Shay Given played in, so you would not have thought that any change would be necessary. Middlesbrough visit Watford, who look to be regaining some form, as two home wins to nil sandwiched a respectable draw at leaders Leicester. In their last match, a 1-0 victory over Birmingham, Troy Deeney netted his first league goal since Boxing Day. These are two teams who look to be bringing in exotic, foreign players to try and win promotion. It may take both of them the rest of this season, to consolidate under their respective new managers. 2-1.
QPR vs. Reading
QPR are usually reliable at home, having dropped points at Loftus Road on just four occasions this season. However, they have only taken six points from eight games against teams currently in the top seven, and their lack of appetite for the big games is surprising, given the squad’s experience. Reading have been surprisingly inconsistent since the turn of the year. After hitting seven past Bolton, they lost at Ipswich, and after beating Blackpool and Millwall comfortably, they lost 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday. It is difficult to know which Reading side will show. We can expect QPR to have long spells on the ball, but with Charlie Austin out they could lack potency going forward, and in Le Fondre and Pogrebnyak, Reading have better striking options. With Dunne and Hill aging to some extent, the Royals might just thrive on the counter attack. 1-2.