The teams in the last 16 of the FA Cup are just two matches away from Wembley. However, it’s debatable whether the semi-finals should be played at the iconic national stadium. On the one hand you could say it devalues the final or the alternative view is that it gives more fans the opportunity to attend the last four fixtures and have their day out. The days of the semi-finals being played around the country are long gone.
Wembley occasions for Tottenham supporters are like London buses but more so. You wait for years to see your team play at Wembley and then 19 league matches and fixtures in the FA Cup and Champions League come along in the same season. If Tottenham do reach the semi-finals at Wembley will they be given the home dressing room? They can go one stop closer by beating Rochdale away from home.
The pitch at Wembley is always in pristine condition but the Rochdale turf is more akin to sand. Mauricio Pochettino is getting his excuses in early by suggesting the match should be moved if the pitch is not fit for purpose. That is a decision for the FA and match officials. It would be ironic if Tottenham draw at Juventus and lost at Rochdale five days later but that won’t happen because even the Spurs reserves can beat the team who are bottom of League One.
Rochdale are the second lowest ranked team in the hierarchy who are playing in the fifth round. Ten of the survivors play in the Premier League. There are only three top tier meetings so in theory seven of the eight quarter-finalists could come from the top division. Despite the romance of the Cup and David and Goliath encounters one of the superpowers runs around Wembley with the Cup in May. Since the start of the Premier League era the average position of the Cup winners is 4th.
Coventry City won the FA Cup in the 1986-87 season and are the only representatives from the fourth tier this time. They have drawn a Premier League team away from home but a match at Brighton won’t have a major effect on finances. The rewards from playing Manchester United at Old Trafford in front of a crowd of about 78,000 dwarf the money they will receive if 15,000 people turn up at Brighton. Premier League class should tell and Brighton can qualify for the last eight.
Three of the eight fifth round ties start at the traditional 3pm kick off time and two matches have been rearranged for Friday night. Leicester and Chelsea look home bankers against Sheffield United and Hull. Leicester have the best chance of the teams outside the top financial bracket of winning the Cup. The squad is not greatly changed from the title-winning group. Leicester are not playing in Europe and are safe in the league so can focus on the FA Cup. The players know how to win a trophy.
Swansea look the most vulnerable of the Premier League outfits and are odds-against to beat Sheffield United on the road but a draw and replay is on the cards. The West Brom and Southampton meeting is difficult to call but the two Manchester giants have winnable away matches. A City and United final is the favourite in the ‘Name The Finalists’ market and nothing should happen this weekend to change that outcome. The clubs have never met in an FA Cup Final but that could happen at Wembley this May as long as Tottenham don’t spoil the party for their guests.