5 Bold Predictions for FA Cup Weekend
The last time Manchester United and Reading played, the Premier League rivals shared seven goals in a thrilling Premier League encounter. The rematch is set for this weekend in the FA Cup, and it promises to produce more excitement.
Will United keep alive their dream of a treble? Or will Reading send the Premier League champions-elect out of the FA Cup?
That's just one of the intriguing story lines in store this weekend in fifth-round FA Cup action (and one fourth-round replay).
Keep reading for five bold predictions for the weekend.
Blackburn to Push Arsenal All the Way
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Fixture: Arsenal vs. Blackburn
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. ET
Arsenal and Blackburn combined for 15 goals in their two Premier League matches last season. Another goal-fest is possible, of course, but don't expect it to happen. Here are a couple reasons.
Firstly, this is a knockout match at Arsenal, which means second-tier Blackburn will most likely take a defensive approach. Expect Rovers to make defending a priority, either hoping to pick off Arsenal on the counter or draw the match and play the return leg at Ewood Park.
Secondly, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger probably will not select a full-strength squad. The Gunners have a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match against Bayern Munich at home on Tuesday, and besides, he has a few injury concerns, mostly in defense.
Left-back Kieran Gibbs is injured. Central defender Laurent Koscielny was a late scratch at Sunderland with a calf issue. Central defender Thomas Vermaelen is reportedly receiving injections for an ankle problem (via The Independent).
Between resting his squad for Bayern and dealing with injuries, Wenger could have more than a few selection headaches. History, however, favors the Gunners.
Arsenal have not lost in their last 34 FA Cup matches against lower-tier opposition, and they're also unbeaten in 34 FA Cup home matches (via Yahoo! Eurosport).
Look for this one to be tight, but expect Arsenal to pull out a result.
Chelsea to Take Care of Business
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Fixture: Chelsea vs. Brentford (fourth-round replay)
When: Sunday, 7 a.m. ET
Sunday's match is sandwiched between the two legs of Chelsea's Europa League second-round tie with Sparta Prague, meaning manager Rafa Benitez could have a few selection issues.
Still, Brentford have won only once in their last six League One matches, and Chelsea's squad is big enough and talented enough to win with second-stringers.
If they don't win, though, Benitez could be in serious trouble.
MK Dons to End Fairytale Run
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Fixture: Milton Keynes Dons vs. Barnsley
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. ET
After League One Milton Keynes Dons registered a memorable 4-2 win at Premier League strugglers Queens Park Rangers last month, manager Karl Robinson hailed his team's "winnable" draw with Championship side Barnsley (via BBC Sport).
"It's a tie both clubs and managers will look to win," he said. "They'll see it as a winnable tie and so will we."
So who will win? The form book favors Barnsley.
Barnsley, who remain in the Championship's relegation zone, have won four of five in the league. They've won six of seven in all competitions. Jason Scotland has scored three goals in only 75 minutes of playing time (via Yahoo! Eurosport).
But playing at home, with the momentum of a fairytale Cup run behind them, MK Dons could just keep the story going. In the league, Dons haven't won since Jan. 1, scoring just twice three times in that span.
But each of their two wins since then have come in the FA Cup (home to Sheffield Wednesday and at QPR).
So are Dons saving it for the Cup? Or is this is a case of Cup magic at work?
Reading to Put a Scare into Manchester United
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Fixture: Manchester United vs. Reading
When: Monday, 3 p.m. ET
We've all seen it before, and we could see it again Monday. After playing an intense 1-1 draw at Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester United are primed for an FA Cup hangover.
But if any manager can prepare his team to recover in time, it's United's Sir Alex Ferguson. Still, Reading will be no pushovers, even if they are in the Premier League relegation scrap.
The Royals scored five goals in a Capital One Cup loss to Arsenal earlier this season and have collected 10 points in their last five Premier League matches. At home to United in December, Reading took the lead twice before losing 4-3.
Expect more of the same Monday, but just don't expect United to lose.
Leeds to Take Manchester City to a 2nd Leg
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Fixture: Manchester City vs. Leeds United
When: Sunday, 9 a.m. ET
For Leeds United, this weekend is either the best time or the worst time to play Manchester City.
By the time of Sunday's kickoff, City will have had almost eight days to stew over their error-stricken 3-1 loss at Southampton in the Premier League. That result left the defending champions 12 points behind leaders Manchester United and all but out of the title race.
"We will learn from this defeat and use the deflated feeling we had afterwards as an inspiration to maybe try and re-discover the sort of spirit we had last season," said City defender Pablo Zabaleta (per Independent.ie). "We need to stand together, battle and show what we are really capable of."
City manager Roberto Mancini criticized his team's performance and promised changes for the Leeds match. The question is, can City rediscover their form against Leeds? Or can Leeds claim their second straight Premier League victim in the FA Cup?
City's struggles mean it's certainly possible. But with the amount of talent in the squad, and assuming the players show a renewed focus, City should be able to avoid defeat.
The key word there is "should." Here's predicting another uneven performance that ends in a draw.