Liverpool have the weekend off because of their FA Cup exit to West Brom three weeks ago but, with four of the current Premier League top six in cup action over the coming days, let’s look at what lies in store for the teams still in with a shout of winning the world’s oldest knockout competition in 2018.
The round five action begins with two games on Friday night, one of which sees Chelsea welcome Hull to Stamford Bridge. The last time the Tigers visited this ground, the game was tarnished by a serious head injury to Ryan Mason, one which ultimately led to the England international’s sadly premature retirement this week. The Blues may have had a comfortable win over West Brom on Monday, but plenty of questions remain and Antonio Conte will need to shuffle the pack here ahead of Tuesday night’s encounter with Barcelona. Nigel Adkins drew on his last visit to Chelsea in 2013 when he was in charge of Southampton, a game which proved to be his final one in the Saints job after his shock dismissal two days later. This is by far Chelsea’s best chance of a trophy and, with plenty of doubters to be won over, expect them to take tonight’s affair very seriously.
Also on Friday, Leicester play host to Sheffield United in what has the makings of a very good cup tie. The Foxes were thumped 5-1 by Manchester City last week but can take heart from their resolute first-half display at the Etihad, while their form of late has largely been positive. Having come off the bench a week ago, Riyad Mahrez could be selected to start here, which would give him the chance to properly put the transfer deadline day fiasco to bed. Sheffield United are one of those clubs with a reputation for doing well in the cups, having reached the semi-finals of this competition as recently as 2014, and are having a very good season under Chris Wilder. The Blades will fancy their chances of causing an upset, but if Leicester are fully attuned to the task, they should progress.
Saturday’s action starts with Carlos Carvalhal’s return to Hillsborough, where he takes his Swansea side into battle against former employers Sheffield Wednesday. The Spaniard was ousted by the Yorkshire club after a poor start to the season, having guided them to the playoffs in the last two campaigns, and he has totally revitalised Swansea since taking the job just after Christmas. Even though the Swans are still in the midst of a relegation battle, they have the world of momentum behind them and Carvalhal will be chomping at the bit to get one over on his former club.
Brighton against Coventry sees top-tier play fourth-tier – 20 years ago, the Sky Blues were the Premier League outfit while the Seagulls were battling to stay in the Football League, but their respective paths have been of extreme contrast in recent times. Brighton still have plenty to do to make sure of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship, but they have had some good results of late and their reliance on Glenn Murray for goals has been lightened by the coming of form of Jose Izquierdo. Coventry ousted top-flight opposition in round three when beating Stoke, but with their league form less than stellar, this could be as far as their excellent cup adventure goes.
West Brom and Southampton both have bigger concerns than the FA Cup right now, but one of them will put themselves within one game of Wembley in this all-Premier League tie. It’s only been two weeks that the Saints visited The Hawthorns and won 3-2, although that result was followed up by a comprehensive defeat to Liverpool, whose cup hopes were ended by the Baggies in round four. Jay Rodriguez had a quiet game against his former club a couple of weeks ago; with Daniel Sturridge out injured, the ex-Saint is almost certain to get another chance to feature. This tie could well go to a replay that would be the last thing either of these teams need.
Manchester United were humbled by Huddersfield on their last visit to the John Smith’s Stadium back in October, so what chance of a repeat on Saturday evening? Based on these teams’ respective performances last weekend, the possibility of lightning striking twice is certainly not remote. Huddersfield ended their recent poor run in emphatic fashion by hammering Bournemouth 4-1 while United limped to a 0-1 defeat against relegation-threatened Newcastle. Jose Mourinho will need to pick his starting XI carefully with the midweek Champions League trip to Sevilla on the horizon, so they could be ripe for the picking here. Still, if United are on their game, they’ll probably come through for a second win over Huddersfield this month, having beaten them at Old Trafford in the league a fortnight ago.
Tottenham were excellent in the Champions League during the week, recovering from a disastrous start to deservedly reel in a needlessly cautious Juventus side. Having had the measure of the Italian champions, how will Spurs handle the rather different task of taking on a Rochdale team sitting bottom of League One? The build-up to this game has been dominated by controversy over the Spotland pitch, with Rochdale putting down a new surface after complaints from Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. Tottenham will make changes and Rochdale will take heart from Newport’s display against Spurs in round four, but the Londoners ought to be too strong for the struggling home side.
The round five action concludes on Monday night with a repeat of the 2013 final between Wigan and Manchester City. That was perhaps the greatest day in Wigan’s history, when they shocked their star-studded opponents to lift the cup, but that was achieved in the dying embers of their time as a Premier League side and they now find themselves in League One. Paul Cook joked earlier in the week that he would need to field 14 players to stand a chance against the top flight champions-elect and, while playing at the DW Stadium should be something of a leveller, you can see his point. City were imperious against Basel during the week and they’ll have had six days’ rest by the time they take on the Latics.
None of the Premier League heavyweights face each other this weekend, so there is a strong chance that the quarter-finals will see plenty of big names still involved. The 2018 FA Cup has thrown up its share of surprises, though, so there’s definitely scope for one or two more over the coming days. Arsenal and Liverpool were big-name casualties in the two previous rounds; will someone of a similar ilk be downed in round five?