The FA Cup now becomes a massive priority for Chelsea after being knocked out of the Champions League by PSG on Wednesday. However, Everton away is not the ideal match to get their season back on track and they could be eliminated from another competition. Manchester United should make home advantage pay and progress at the expense of West Ham. Reading and Arsenal can win their ties against Crystal Palace and Watford to complete the four home team multiple.
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.
Chelsea were second best against PSG over the two fixtures. Once Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the second half there was no recovering from a situation in which Chelsea had to score three times. They never looked like scoring one but the loss of Diego Costa at the start of the second half did not help. Chelsea are 10th in the league, 10 points away from the top four and Costa is unlikely to play against Everton. The only route into Europe now is the FA Cup.
Everton were beating West Ham 2-0 last Sunday when Romelu Lukaku missed a penalty to secure the points. West Ham scored three goals in the last 12 minutes to win the match which means Everton have only won four of 15 home league matches this season. The FA Cup now takes on more importance for Roberto Martinez. His side play decent football but don’t win enough matches but Everton can beat Chelsea this Saturday. Lukaku can be frustrating but his goals record compensates for any perceived lack of effort and his relaxed approach to the taking penalties.
It’s difficult to assess how good or bad Manchester United really are but the loss at West Brom suggests all is still not well in the camp. Louis Van Gaal has struck lucky with the goals of Marcus Rashford and he has blooded several other youngsters through necessity. Van Gaal could still leave the club in the summer and Jose Mourinho will be observing from afar with interest.
Despite Arsenal’s inconsistency Arsene Wenger should put out a team strong enough to beat Watford at home. That side are becalmed in mid-table safety, virtually free of relegation issues and with no chance of qualifying for Europe. Arsenal can move on and get one step closer to winning the FA Cup three years in succession which has never been achieved in the modern football era since the start of the 20th century. It is debateable whether that will stop the increasing criticism directed at the manager who may feel he can take the club no further and retire after 20 years with Arsenal.
Reading are the only team to have reached the quarter–finals four times in the last seven years and can make the semi-finals for the second year running. Palace have just about enough points in the bag to not be dragged into the relegation mire but that’s only because Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle are so far adrift. However, staying in the league is a huge priority and Alan Pardew may play the reserves.
A home win will mean the last four is made up of two big northern sides, a huge southern side and Reading. The Cup should run true to form and that means the winners will probably be Manchester United or Arsenal. But before then the acca on the four hosts this weekend pays 22/1.