10 Players to Watch in the FA Cup Fourth Round
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Swansea City and particularly Bradford City's progress into the final of the Capital One Club was a reminder the FA Cup does not have a monopoly on unlikely stories in English football.
With ten Premier League clubs facing lower league opposition in the FA Cup Fourth Round this weekend there might just be one or two more giant-killings we are talking about before the week is up.
The likes of Liverpool (facing Oldham Athletic) and Norwich City (hosting non-league Luton Town) will be keen to avoid such upsets though. Despite the threat of embarrassment they will be hopeful of making their divisional advantage count and get that one step closer to Wembley.
There are just two all top-flight clashes, with Manchester City away at Stoke City and Manchester United at home to Fulham.
With a lot of football going on, here are ten players that are likely to take part this weekend who could be worth keeping an eye on. Some of these are well known, a few perhaps less so.
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Sunday will see Dimitar Berbatov likely line up against former club Manchester United for the first time since leaving last summer.
The Bulgarian was absent when Fulham visited Old Trafford in the league in August. Martin Jol's team missed their new signing as they suffered a 3-2 defeat.
The Cottagers have had a difficult time of late in the Premier League. The FA Cup has not provided much of a respite, with Blackpool taking them to extra time in a replay in the third round.
Now they face the difficult task of taking on their division's current table toppers and their in-form goalscorer Robin van Persie.
How Berbatov responds to facing Sir Alex Ferguson and several old teammates may have a big say in the direction this game goes. Fulham will need him to be in inspired form if they want to leave Manchester with a positive result.
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Aston Villa were not pinning all their hopes of a turnaround on one man, but they could have done with the return of Ron Vlaar from injury providing some much needed solidity to a leaky defense.
Thus far it has not worked out like that. In the two games the Dutchman has been back in the side Villa have blown a two-goal lead against West Bromwich Albion, and then conceded a crucial goal against Bradford City that saw them lose their Capital One Cup semifinal on aggregate.
Vlaar was not solely at fault for these disappointments. But being their captain, the 27-year-old has to take some responsibility for this youthful Villa side he has been appointed to lead.
They face a tricky test in the Fourth Round, heading to the Den to take on Kenny Jackett's Millwall side on Friday night.
It is a tie that has all the makings for an upset. If Villa do not want to conclude a miserable seven days with a second consecutive cup exit, they could do with the likes of Vlaar stepping up and leading by example.
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Luciano Becchio scored the last time Leeds United hosted Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road. That goal came in a 3-1 replay defeat in the Fourth Round of the 2009-10 edition of the cup.
That year saw his then teammate Jermaine Beckford grab the headlines though. First with the winner in a 1-0 Third Round defeat of Manchester United, and then with a brace against Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Leeds' top scorer this season, Becchio will be one of their best hopes of replicating such moments this time around.
Spurs have shored up compared to how they were defending earlier in the season. Nonetheless, the hostile Elland Road crowd could cause a few jitters, and you would not bet against Becchio being around to make the most of them.
However on Thursday afternoon it did emerge that Becchio has handed in a transfer request. At the time of writing there has been no formal response from Leeds indicating whether this would effect him being selected on Sunday.
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Luton Town defender Ronnie Henry's link with the FA Cup has been well told by now—his grandfather Ron Henry was part of Tottenham Hotspur's historic double-winning side of 1960-61 and also won the competition a year later.
The younger Henry has been fortunate enough to reach Wembley twice himself, as part of Stevenage Borough's FA Trophy winning sides in 2009 and 2010.
That is a trip he is unlikely to repeat with Luton in this competition (although never say never, just look at Bradford this year). But having already caused a shock by dumping out Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Third Round, the Hatters could yet pull off another upset when they face Norwich City.
Still at Stevenage last season, Henry was part of the team that took Tottenham to a Fifth Round replay. The Luton captain will need to call on the memories of that commendable performance and put in a big defensive shift if they are to get anything from this game.
Norwich have hit a poor run in the league but they strolled past Peterborough United with some comfort in the previous round.
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Jack Wilshere drew rave reviews for his starring role in Arsenal's replay win over Swansea City in the last round.
Brighton & Hove Albion, the Gunners' Fourth Round opponents, are a level below the Swans but are still enjoying a good season.
Gus Poyet's team put in an impressive display of their own against Newcastle United to get to this stage and Arsenal would be advised not to take them lightly. That is something they probably won't do after suffering their own cup upset already this year.
Wilshere has played a lot of football of late and his manager, Arsene Wenger, might have viewed Brighton as an opportunity to give him a rest in normal circumstances. Given the 21-year-old's importance to his team, he might not want to risk dropping him when the FA Cup is their best chance of silverware this season.
If they hope to reach Wembley, Wilshere will almost certainly be required.
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After 16 months out injured, Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden made his return in his team's Third Round replay defeat of Sunderland.
The 16-minute cameo in the Trotters' 2-0 win was a welcome return for a player who, prior to his injury, had been performing impressively in the Premier League.
In his absence, Bolton were relegated to The Championship. While there were a number of reasons why, being without the talented American certainly did not help.
Holden was not included in the squad for Bolton's only game since his appearance against Sunderland. At the time of writing there hasn't been a definitive answer as to whether he will be involved in their Fourth Round tie against Everton.
It would be a good story if he is though. A chance for Holden to test himself against Premier League opposition again having missed so many opportunities to do so over the last couple of years.
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Liverpool face their second lower league opposition in a row in the Fourth Round as they visit Oldham Athletic.
Luis Suarez was involved in a controversial handball incident involving in the last round at Mansfield Town. That incident will have little baring on this match, but should he play it will be interesting to see what kind of response he provokes from the Boundary Park crowd and indeed, the Oldham team.
A player like Suarez should have little trouble dealing with the League One side, but given their manager is Paul Dickov it will be interesting to see how he prepares his team for them.
Dickov was a good forward, though not in Suarez's league. But like the Liverpool man he had a habit of provoking and upsetting opponents by occasionally unsavory methods.
It might count for nothing at all. Maybe though, Dickov will find a way to put Suarez off his game. What is that saying, it takes one to know one....?
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The FA Cup is probably not at the forefront of Roberto Martinez's mind when his Wigan Athletic team are currently fighting for their lives in the Premier League.
Yet while it could be easy to disregard the famous old competition, the last thing Wigan need right now is to suffer the ignominy of defeat to a non-league side. Their fragile confidence might not take such a blow.
Macclesfield Town will be the team attempting to take advantage of a Wigan side in need of defensive reinforcement, injuries to Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis having left them light.
Even considering wanting to avoid an upset, Martinez might have chosen this game to rest goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi so as not to risk injury to another key player. But with main back-up Mike Pollitt injured the Oman international will likely play.
Heading to Macclesfield's Moss Rose ground, Wigan might not have it all their own away (even with the huge number of places between them in overall league positions) and will need a steady and reassuring performance from Al-Habsi.
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Milton Keynes Dons were involved in the biggest FA Cup story prior to the Third Round when they faced AFC Wimbledon for the first time since the former's controversial move away from London.
Having gotten the better of the Wimbledon offshoot, MK Dons then got the better of Championship club Sheffield Wednesday to set up a meeting with Premier League Queens Park Rangers.
The Dons have come close to getting out of League One on a few occasions. But even having stayed in the division for a few years now they still have the feel of a club on the rise.
One of the central figures in that progress has been Luke Chadwick.
The former Manchester United midfielder bounced around several clubs on loan then and since his time at Old Trafford, but has found a home in Milton Keynes since joining on a permanent basis in 2009.
He has been a key figure in Karl Robinson's team and is enjoying a good current campaign. If the Dons are to get the better of QPR at Loftus Road he could likely play a big role.
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Michael Owen cut a largely anonymous figure in Stoke City's initial draw with Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Third Round.
It seemed like more evidence of the once feared striker's decline. Something that joining Stoke has done little to stop.
But then the former England international went and scored his team's consolation goal against Swansea City. Though it may have counted for little it was a reminder that the 33-year-old's goalscoring instincts at least are intact.
Hopes of a career renaissance might be over-optimistic but Owen is in contention for a start against Manchester City this Saturday lunchtime.
There is nothing quite like seeing a player realize he is not done yet. Maybe the FA Cup will act as Owen's chance to achieve such an epiphany.