FA Cup 4th Round: 6 Games to Watch for This Weekend

Willie Gannon@https://twitter.com/WillieGannonSenior Writer IJanuary 24, 2013

FA Cup 4th Round: 6 Games to Watch for This Weekend

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    The FA Cup returns for fourth-round action with only 32 teams remaining in the oldest club competition in the world.

    The iconic image of Liverpool's Luis Suarez handling the ball to score against lowly Mansfield Town still lingers from a third round that promised much but which fell short of expectations. Less than a month has passed since the uninspiring fourth-round draw, but in that time whole seasons have either fallen apart or have taken flight. 

    For many clubs the fourth round now represents a watershed moment that may define how the rest of their season will turn out. 

    Clubs facing relegation like Aston Villa, Reading and Wigan need to win to put some momentum back in the season. Arsenal's season is falling apart as Tottenham Hotspur's moves into another gear. Liverpool are hoping for another return to Wembley while both Manchester sides, City and United, will be keen not to give a psychological edge to each other as the Premier League title race heats up.

    Here, Bleacher Report looks at six games to watch across a weekend that may be one of the most important of the season.

Millwall vs. Aston Villa

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    It says much of Aston Villa's season that if they lose to Championship side Millwall it won't be considered a shock.

    Heading into the third round, Millwall were in promotion form and had only lost three games from their previous 18. Heading into the visit of Aston Villa to the Den, they have only won two from the last six. A morale-sapping defeat to Ipswich at the start of December started this poor form, and Kenny Jackett will be hoping to get his team back on track with a win over Paul Lambert's men.

    The main Lions players to look out for are the underrated Irish international goalkeeper David Forde, Chris Wood who has scored 11 goals in 18 starts and Danny Shittu who commands and organises their back line.

    Add in the frightening atmosphere that the Den can generate on big match days and Aston Villa's young team might just be Villains entering the Lions Den.

    Villa are in shocking form and have dropped into the relegation zone having only won four games from 23. They are also coming off the back of a shock two-legged defeat to League Two side Bradford in the League Cup and are about as low, morale-wise, as a team can get in the top flight.

    Inexperienced to the core, Villa are heavily reliant on new signing Christian Benteke to get them out of trouble as their squad incapable of scoring from anywhere else. Brad Guzan has quietly impressed this term in goal, as has Matt Lowton in defence, but they will be really up against it when they face Millwall in the Friday night match.

    If anything, Paul Lambert will pack defence and play on the break as Millwall's pitch is 110 yards long, and this may be the only chance they have of winning as they are likely to fare worst in a toe-to-toe contest.

Stoke City vs. Manchester City

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    Manchester City's visit to the Britannia Stadium and Stoke City is going to be a battle of wills as much as a football match.

    City last won at the Britannia in 1999 when both sides were in League Two. Since then a lot has changed. The Citizens are now widely accepted as the richest club in world football while Stoke are probably the best advertisement on how to run a club successfully within its limits in English football.

    At one stage this season both these sides proclaimed the best defensive records in the Premier League. But a run of just one win from 10 and conceding 13 in their last four games has utterly destroyed that proud Potters record.

    City, on the other hand, have won seven of their last eight fixtures and are beginning to look something like the side that won the Premier League title last season.

    The game is massively important for both teams for completely different reasons and neither side will be over-happy if a replay is needed.

    Saying that, Tony Pulis is unlikely to stray from his defensive outlook and will set his team up to soak up as much pressure while hoping to win set-pieces in important positions. The Roberto Mancini of the 2012-13 season is more akin to his pre-title winning persona and has been cautious this season. 

    This outlook may have cost his team points during the early part of the season, and if they can salvage a win in difficult circumstances at the Britannia it will set them up perfectly for an extremely difficult run of fixtures across February and March.

Manchester United vs. Fulham

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    Manchester United take on Fulham in the late kickoff on Saturday evening with the Red Devils boasting a domestic unbeaten run that stretches all the way back to November, some 14 games ago.

    They welcome a Fulham side who ran them very close when the two sides met last August. However, since then the Cottagers have lost the influential Mousa Dembele, who now runs Andre Villas-Boas' midfield at Tottenham Hotspur.

    Fulham last won at Old Trafford in 1963 and have only beaten the Red Devils twice across 41 matches since then. 

    Martin Jol takes a team slowly sliding down the table and who have only won three games from their last 20 fixtures. They will, however, be bringing Dimitar Berbatov back to his old stomping ground with plenty to prove to Sir Alex Ferguson.

    United drew with Spurs last weekend and put in their best defensive performance of the season. However the result, Ferguson will be more than concerned at how Spurs bossed the game from start to finish and he will be very eager to get his midfield back on track, especially with Real Madrid waiting in the wings.

    If Fulham come out and go for broke right from the start, we could see a shock on our hands but looking at their past history that looks distinctly unlikely.

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Arsenal

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    Brighton are through to Round 4 of the FA Cup thanks to a well-deserved win over Newcastle United. the Seagulls also knocked the Magpies out last year, but once they entered the business end of the competition they came unstuck against a Liverpool side slowly growing in confidence.

    This time they face the hottest and coldest Arsenal team of the last 30 years and in reality the game could go either way. The Gunners are incredibly inconsistent this term, but Arsene Wenger will have his team full of confidence following their 5-1 drubbing of West Ham midweek.

    For their part, Gus Poyet's side are one of the Championship's form teams at the moment and have only lost twice in their last 17 matches. Currently just outside the playoff spots in seventh, the Seagulls will welcome Arsenal with open arms to the 35,000 capacity Falmer Stadium with the fifth round firmly on their minds.

    Boasting a number of unsung heroes like Craig Mackail-Smith, Ashley Barnes and Will Buckley not to mention Tomasz Kuszczak and Wayne Bridge, Brighton will do their level best to provide a stern test for Wenger and his troops.

    Arsenal are easy favourites for this game and boast the kind of players who should win comfortably. However, they are weak-spirited and the longer they go without scoring the more likely the scales of confidence will shift toward Brighton.

Leeds United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Tottenham Hotspur and Andre Villas-Boas head to the legendary Elland Road to take on Leeds United and Neil Warnock in one of the standout fixtures of the third round.

    Spurs are justifiably in fourth place in the Premier League and are probably the last team Leeds would want to face at this stage of the competition.

    Of the many good elements of the Villas-Boas reign is his reluctance to chop and change his team for non-Premier League fixtures and he always chooses a very strong team. The Spurs squad has developed in such a way over the last couple of seasons that with, perhaps, one or two additions they will be title challengers before long.

    Their current run has seen them only lose once from their last 14 matches, and that was against Everton when they conceded two goals in injury time to lose from a winning position. More importantly they have won nine of those 14 games and have only conceded seven goals in the process.

    Leeds, under Warnock, have been very hit and miss this term and have lost 11 while winning 12. They rely heavily upon Luciano Becchio, who has 15 goals in 26 matches, El-Hadji Diouf and the ever-present, as far as Warnock teams are concerned, Paddy Kenny.

    Lee Peltier will be needed at the back to monitor Jermain Defoe who is expected to start and it is near impossible to see the away side not scoring.

    Leeds' best chance to beat Spurs is to match them man-for-man across midfield, but given the power, pace and athleticism this current Tottenham team possess, that may prove to be a tall order.

Oldham Athletic vs. Liverpool

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    The halcyon days of Andy Ritchie, Denis Irwin, Earl Barrett and Nick Henry may be long gone at Oldham Athletic but the Latics still know how to entertain.

    Once upon a time Oldham were a Premier League side and were actually one of the founding fathers of the league in 1992. At the time they were one of the most attractive sides in the league and were widely recognised as everyone's favourite second team.

    Since relegation from the EPL in 1994 Boundary Park has only entertained the big-boys in cup competition and the last time they faced Liverpool, in the FA Cup third round in 2012 they were soundly beaten 5-1.

    They will be hoping that home advantage will help them avoid the same result, but a run of just one win from their last nine games does not inspire confidence.

    Ex-Manchester City stalwart Paul Dickov is the man in charge at Boundary Park. As his team flirt with relegation to League Two, he will be fully aware that a good performance rather than result is what his team needs most. 

    Liverpool though will not be the slightest bit concerned with the affairs of Oldham, and Brendan Rodgers will be looking for another positive result in an inconsistent first season in charge.

    The signs of progress from the last regime are there for all to see. However, the Reds have proved infuriating in taking that next step of their progression, and at times it could be argued that they are going backwards under their new manager.

    Liverpool made it to the final of the FA Cup last season and while that remains a possibility, Rodgers will be more concerned with progress on the pitch than results. That very thought process makes Oldham's job incredibly difficult.

FA Cup 4th Round Draw

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    FA Cup Fourth-Round Fixtures:


    ‎Aston Villa

    Stoke City
    Manchester City

    Norwich City
    Luton Town
    Wigan Athletic

    Derby County
    Blackburn Rovers
    Hull City
    Brighton & Hove Albion
    Sheffield United
    Huddersfield Town
    Leicester City
    Queens Park Rangers
    Milton Keynes Dons
    Bolton Wanderers
    Manchester United
    Leeds United
    Tottenham Hotspur
    Oldham Athletic


    Statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com.

    You can follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon