Eleven of the 16 ties in the fourth round of the FA Cup kick-off at 3pm on Saturday and there are live TV fixtures from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. Manchester United are featured for the umpteenth time and get the ball rolling away to Derby which is being seen as the tie of the round and having the potential for the one of the biggest upsets of the competition this season to date.
The other televised matches feature Premier League clubs playing teams from the Championship, League One and League Two and a repeat of the 2006 final when Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool to beat West Ham. Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton should come through unscathed from trips to MK Dons, Colchester United and Carlisle United but this is the Cup….
The BBC trailer for their coverage plays on the fact that anything can happen in the Cup. Certainly there is a history of shocks in the earlier rounds but usually the cream comes to the top. Since the beginning of the Premier League era for the 1992/93 season 44 of the 46 finalists have come from the top level of English football. In the last 23 seasons the average Premier League finishing position of the Cup winners has been fifth while the losing finalists averaged eighth place in the top league.
In 2004 Millwall from League One were outclassed by Manchester United in the Cup Final. Four years later Cardiff represented the Championship but were beaten by Portsmouth who were in the Premier League at the time. One of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have won the FA Cup 18 times since 1993 and since joining the elite Manchester City have also won the competition. The point is that despite early upsets the Cup has been dominated by the Premier League superpowers.
It is debateable whether Manchester United are still a superpower as each new day of the Louis Van Gaal era damages the legacy. To not score in the first half of 11 home matches must be unprecedented and frankly it’s a disgrace. If United lost at Derby that could be the end and the club will lurch on as they try to rebuild after the Alex Ferguson era. Jose Mourinho would walk up the motorway barefoot to become the manager of the biggest club in the world.
Derby away on a January Friday night is not the best fixture on which to decide your future. Avoiding defeat is the minimum requirement for Van Gaal but his side do not have a goal in them and Derby have lost just two of 14 home matches in the Championship this season, scoring 24 goals and conceding 12. Injuries and loss of form cost them dear in the second half of last season and they have dropped off the pace in the Championship this time. United should take the draw and run.
The match that brings together Liverpool and West Ham is one of three all-Premier League fixtures and on current positions the classiest tie of the round. Anfield is hardly a fortress these days and Liverpool have only won four of 11 league matches at home. West Ham have the fourth best record on the road and can avoid defeat against a Liverpool side that have lost their last two home fixtures, against Manchester United in the league and Stoke after 90 minutes in the Capital one Cup. The two draws pay over 11/1 in a double.
The tie between Carlisle and Everton has the biggest gulf in class based on the two team’s current position in the hierarchy. A wise man once said never take odds-on for an away team but winning 50% of your stake on Everton looks like the bet of the fourth round. The story is much about the recovery of the Carlisle ground after the recent floods. The team’s defences will not be able to cope with Romelu Lukaku and co and an away win is the prediction for this tie.
The prospects for Tottenham on the road depend on the quality of the teams their manager selects. At full strength Tottenham would beat Colchester nine times out of ten so in theory 2/5 is a good price as this equates to four times out of ten. The first team regulars beat Crystal Palace away last weekend and Colchester are bottom of League One and have won just three of 14 league matches at home.
Chelsea have a tougher proposition at MK Dons but that side are just two points out of the relegation places in the Championship. Jose Mourinho always respected the integrity of the competition and Guus Hiddink won the Cup during his previous brief spell as manager of the club. The three big boys should survive their ties which means Manchester United look the most vulnerable and the match at Derby could be Van Gaal’s last.