Saturday, February 17, 2007

The FA Cup Re-visited

We're down to the last sixteen of the FA Cup this weekend, and it's starting to get a little bit more difficult to get enthusiastic. I fear that we're headed for semi-finals made up of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and A.N.Other. Perhaps it's just because I woke up this morning with a bit of a hangover. Still, it's eyes down for a full house again with the Fifth Round. Let's take a quick look at this weekend's matches and see if we can't work out in advance what's going to happen.

Chelsea - Norwich City: If I was a conspiracy theorist, I'd argue that somewhere, deep in the bowels of Soho Square, a scientist has made some sort of special magnetic balls which are designed to give Chelsea as easy a ride as possible to the final of this year's FA Cup. Norwich are a very average Championship side, and struggled to overcome Blackpool in the last round. There's no way that Chelsea will lose this match. Yawn.

Arsenal - Blackburn Rovers: Blackburn are one of those infuriating mid-table Premiership teams who are a couple of players short of being able to challenge for a place in Europe. Contrary to what you might have thought if you read the papers in the week, Arsenal didn't walk all over Bolton in the week, and were flattered by their 3-1 win. One would hope that they're still tired from being taken to extra-time in the week, but Arsene Wenger has got a considerably bigger squad than they've had in previous years. They'll sneak home, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Blackburn score first.

Manchester United - Reading: Am I being wildly over-optimistic to think that Reading have got what it takes to cause the surprise of this year's FA Cup against Manchester United in this round? Reading have been on fire over the last few weeks or so, and I remain convinced that United are still being carried along by Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo alone this season, and are headed for a fall. I'm going for a draw in this one - and you never know what might happen in the replay.

Middlesbrough - West Bromwich Albion: After a stutter over Christmas and the new year, West Brom are starting to find their feet again, and are many people's favourites for promotion back the the Premiership. This afternoon they have to do it all over again against Gareth Southgate's crazy, knock-about, zany Middlesbrough. I don't, in all honesty, think that there's a great deal between these teams, and with Middlesbrough having stumbled and stuttered their way to a penalty shoot-out win against the mighty Bristol City in the week, I think West Brom could sneak this. They might need another replay, though.

Plymouth Argyle - Derby County: Those of you with long memories may remember Plymouth's run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1984, when they lost to Watford in a match played, strangely, at Villa Park. I don't think that there will be any such luck for them this year. Derby may have dropped points at home to Hull City last week, but they have been the Championship's real surprise package this season, and I fancy them to win this one with a bit to spare.

Watford - Ipswich Town: I was thinking just the other day... What if... Watford stayed up? Two wins in a row, and suddenly they're in touch with the pack at the bottom, and the FA Cup might even prove to be a distraction (though it's worth pointing out that it was a win at West Ham in the last round that kick-started their revival). This season, Ipswich have been as torpid as Norwich. However, every once in a while a mid-table side comes from nowhere and wins this sort of match. Nah. I still think Watford will snatch this.

Preston North End - Manchester City: There are several clubs for whom being a supporter is a constant cycle of new and amusing torments. Newcastle ant Tottenham are good at doing this, but the undisputed kings of making their supporters feel wretched. Preston, on the other hand, are barking at the door of the Premiership. Having said that, they have got to prove themselves against this sort of team. I suspect that Preston will give them a mighty hard time.

Fulham - Tottenham Hotspur: Much has been made during the week of Tottenham's recent fall from grace. Their defeat against Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final was a shattering result, and their form in the league has collapsed since then. Fulham continue to be something of an enigma. They look like they should be fit for relegation in every respect, but somehow manage to steer clear of any serious relegation trouble. With the next round of the UEFA Cup coming up in the next few weeks, this could be a make or break match for Spurs' season. They've got to break out of their mid-season blues sooner or later, and I fancy them to do so this afternoon. If they don't, they might just descend into free-fall.

One more thing - I've added some new links to the right. You should read them. They're very good.


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