No more replays in the FA Cup this season – by Sunday night we’ll know which four teams are heading to Wembley in April with silverware tantalisingly within their grasp. Of the eight sides left in the competition, only one ply their trade outside the Premier League, while three of the current top five in the land are all still in with a shout of lifting the trophy on Saturday 19 May.
The quarter-final action begins on Saturday lunchtime as Swansea welcome Tottenham to the Liberty Stadium, where the Swans’ results have been almost flawless since Carlos Carvalhal took charge. They needed replays to get through in each of the previous three rounds, so it will come as a relief that their fate will be decided one way or another on Saturday, especially with the threat of relegation still camped outside their door. Tottenham will present a tough assignment for them, though, and even though Spurs will be without Harry Kane, the superb form of Son Heung-min means that the England striker might not be as big a miss as many are fearing. There’s no doubt that the Londoners have progressed notably under Mauricio Pochettino, but there will always be that question of whether it can yield tangible reward in the form of a trophy. This year’s FA Cup might be their best chance of silverware during the Argentine’s time in charge.
The famous silver pot is now Manchester United’s only chance of a trophy this season after their limp Champions League against Sevilla in midweek. On Saturday night the Red Devils return to Old Trafford to face Brighton in a repeat of the 1983 final, which United won after a replay. Jose Mourinho would not have been expecting that, with two months of the season remaining, this competition would be their only shot at silverware, but that is where they now find themselves. Brighton were unlucky not to have taken a point from their visit to this ground in November and, after seeing United struggle so badly on Tuesday, Chris Hughton might just be thinking that his team have a real chance of going a step further in the FA Cup. They will have to play a lot better than they did at Everton last week, though, and will be without Anthony Knockaert for this game after his rash red card at Goodison Park. Can their Irish manager have a St Patrick’s Day to remember?
Wigan are left to fly the flag for the Football League in this year’s FA Cup and their recent record in this competition is very good. Indeed, were they to win on Sunday, they would be into their third semi-final in six years. Also, they would achieve the unusual feat of doing so in a different league each time, having been in the top flight when they won the cup in 2013 and as a Championship side a year later. Their reward for ending the quadruple ambitions of Manchester City in round five is a home tie against Southampton, who wasted little time in appointing Mark Hughes as successor to Mauricio Pellegrino. The Welshman gets a second chance at this competition in 2018 after Stoke’s defeat to Coventry in round three saw the Potters give him the boot. The Saints have enough on their plate as it is with an uphill relegation battle looming, but progression to the FA Cup semi-finals would at least restore some confidence to a team that has lacked it for quite a while now.
The last quarter-final tie sees the two most recent Premier League champions face off at the King Power Stadium, with Leicester playing host to Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. The Foxes are the only team left in the cup with nothing to really play for in league terms, so they are likely to have their eyes firmly fixed on lifting a second trophy in three seasons. They’ll also feel that they are meeting Chelsea at a good time, with the Blues reeling from being outclassed by Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek. The Londoners are among the best FA Cup teams around, though, having won the competition six times in the last 21 years and reached the final last year. Like the other top four chasers, this is their last shot at a trophy in 2018, but will that give them the edge required to win at Leicester for the second time this season?
Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea are the three standout favourites to win this year’s FA Cup and, with all of them avoiding each other in the quarter-finals, it’s quite likely that each of them will still be standing when the weekend’s action is done. They all face tricky tests against fellow Premier League opposition, though, and all will be looking for a pick-me-up after exiting the Champions League in the last fortnight. Is there still time for an upset or two in the FA Cup this season as eight becomes four?