7:45pm on a Saturday night is not a conventional kick-off time in British football, but that is when Liverpool and West Brom will commence battle in round four of the FA Cup this weekend. The Reds have home advantage for this one, just as they did against Everton three weeks ago on the night that Virgil van Dijk made a fairytale debut for the club. However, it was only a few weeks back that the Baggies came to Anfield and earned a 0-0 draw, and they come into Saturday’s game on the back of an improved run of results after a wretched run in the latter months of 2017. Liverpool, of course, slumped to defeat at Swansea on Monday, their Jekyll and Hyde nature to the fore once more against the Premier League’s bottom club. Can they set things right against the team lying second from bottom in the division, or will Philippe Coutinho’s shadow continue to be cast ruefully over the Reds?
The round four action kicks off on Friday night with the type of clash that screams FA Cup classic – Yeovil Town, 21st in the fourth tier of English football, welcome Manchester United to Huish Park. The underdogs caused an upset in round three when winning at Bradford, but any result other than defeat against Jose Mourinho’s men would represent a sensational result for the lowest-placed team left in the competition. These two actually met in the FA Cup just three years ago, when United won 2-0 at Yeovil, who will be hoping to take inspiration from Cambridge United, the team that held the three-time European champions to a draw at this stage of the competition in 2015.
Another League Two versus Premier League clash takes place on Saturday evening when Newport County host Tottenham at Rodney Parade. The Welsh side famously knocked out Leeds in round three and, having just about held onto their Football League status last season, they are right in the mix for the League Two play-offs now, so they will be full of vigour against Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino’s men were surprisingly flat at Southampton last weekend, although they are likely to be too strong for Newport here, even if the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen are rested with the not inconsiderable task of facing Manchester United next Wednesday.
Manchester City reached the Carabao Cup final in midweek and now turn their focus to England’s other cup competition. Like Tottenham, they cross the border into Wales this weekend, with Championship high-fliers Cardiff lying in wait. The last time City played in the Welsh capital, they were beaten in the Bluebirds’ first Premier League home game in 2013. The Mancunians recovered to win the league that season, just as they look set to do in the coming months, although this could be a tricky tie for Pep Guardiola’s side. They were given a decent test in the Carabao Cup semi-finals by Bristol City, who like Cardiff are in the Championship play-off places, so the Premier League leaders have been forewarned. Oh, and in the opposite dugout to the cultured Guardiola is the archetypal meat-and-veg English manager, Neil Warnock.
Last year’s cup winners Arsenal were dumped out in round three this time, and 2017 runners-up Chelsea needed a replay and penalties to avoid a similar fate to the Gunners. On Sunday, they host Newcastle in an all-Premier League tie and the reigning champions are in need of a pick-me-up after being knocked out of the Carabao Cup in midweek. Antonio Conte has looked disenchanted with life at Stamford Bridge lately and the Blues have looked toothless up front without Alvaro Morata, so this match could be coming at a good time for Newcastle. The Geordies are long overdue a prolonged run in this competition and, while they will start as underdogs, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that they could be in Monday’s round five draw.
Chelsea’s predecessors as Premier League champions also required a replay to make it to round four, Leicester eventually overcoming Fleetwood Town. The Foxes are up against another League One outfit this Saturday, making the trip to face Peterborough United, who lie just outside the play-off positions. Claude Puel was almost made to rue fielding a weakened team at Fleetwood three weeks ago, and with Leicester well clear of the relegation zone, it might be in their best interests to give the FA Cup a real shot. If the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy start, they will likely have too much for Peterborough to handle, but that all depends of Puel’s team selection.
There’s an all-Premier League clash at St Mary’s on Saturday as Southampton face Watford in a tie featuring two teams struggling for form. The Saints got a good point against Tottenham last week but it wasn’t enough to take them out of the relegation zone and they are now only two points off bottom. The Hornets’ defeat at Leicester was Marco Silva’s last match in charge, with the Portuguese boss given the chop in favour of Javi Gracia, who is in the Watford dugout for the first time this weekend. While the battle for Premier League survival is the absolute priority for both clubs at the minute, victory for either on Saturday would provide a welcome confidence boost.
Huddersfield are Liverpool’s next Premier League opponents and on Saturday they host Championship strugglers Birmingham at the John Smith’s Stadium. David Wagner’s side are struggling for league form at the moment but will be fancied to overcome the Blues, especially at home. Another Premier League versus Championship clash sees Brighton making the long trip to Middlesbrough. Like Huddersfield, the Seagulls have hit the wall after a bright start to life in the Premier League, while a rejuvenated ‘Boro, under the guidance of Tony Pulis, could be tricky opponents. The Championship side will certainly fancy their chances in this one.
Wigan, cup winners in 2013, dumped out Premier League Bournemouth in round three and face another top flight club in West Ham, who themselves struggled to overcome League One Shrewsbury in a replay. The Latics have home advantage, so they will feel that they have every chance of taking another Premier League scalp, although the Hammers are in decent form as they make the trip to the DW Stadium.
Coventry produced the standout result of round three when knocking out Stoke, a result which brought the curtain down on Mark Hughes’ time in charge of the Potters. The League Two club visit MK Dons on Saturday and, with the home side in the League One relegation zone, this tie should be well balanced. Nottingham Forest’s reward for dethroning Arsenal in round three was a trip to fellow Championship side Hull, who are staring down the barrel of a second successive relegation. Forest are notoriously inconsistent, but if they can produce a level of performance like the one which downed the Gunners, they should progress to round five.
Five days after cutting Liverpool down to size, Swansea will be hoping to avoid being on the wrong side of an upset when they visit League Two high-fliers Notts County, conquerors of Championship club Brentford. Carlos Carvalhal’s former employers Sheffield Wednesday welcome Reading to Hillsborough in a clash of two out-of-sorts Championship sides, while across town, Sheffield United take on Preston, both of whom are much better placed in that division. Millwall, quarter-finalists last season, will expect to progress to round five when they host League One strugglers Rochdale to The Den.
Jurgen Klopp is likely to ring the changes to his starting line-up for the West Brom game, especially with crunch Premier League ties against Huddersfield and Tottenham in the forthcoming nine days. However, the FA Cup represents the Reds’ best chance of a trophy this season, and they have plenty to prove after their flat performance at Swansea last Monday.