Wembley awaits the winners of each Quarter Final
The FA Cup quarterfinals make up one of the best weekends in the English football calendar.
Four games, all televised, dotted across the Saturday and Sunday. Games in which the teams participating and the fans attending are right up for, knowing that a weekend in the capital and a trip to Wembley are a mere 90 minutes away. Fantastic for the winners, heartbreak for the losers. For neutrals, this provides excellent viewing.
Drama, passion, elation and despair, all rolled into two days. Bliss for the football obsessive
The last eight always throws up some intriguing scenarios. Often there are lower league teams still involved dreaming of cup upsets, whilst big ties also begin to spring up as we get down the final knockings of world football’s most famous domestic cup competition.
The draw this year hasn’t disappointed and we have some excellent ties to look forward to. Stick with me as I run through each of games and give my verdict on which sides could be descending on the capital come mid-April:
Everton will manage to get past a tough Wigan test
The Toffees put in a nervy performance, but eventually overcame Oldham Athletic in their fifth-round replay. Now they face a Premier League side for the first time in this seasons competition - as an in-form Wigan Athletic make the short trip to Goodison Park.
When it comes to Wigan, such is the inconsistency of Roberto Martinez’s side, that you don’t know what you are going to get. The can be as fantastic as they are fallible on any given day. Their 3-0 win against an improving Reading outfit contained much to admire, as did their 4-1 win in the FA Cup fifth round at Huddersfield. But these types of performances have been all too infrequent.
Everton will be wary of this, especially as they themselves have been stuttering along as of late. Having conceded goals from three corners in their last three games, the defense looks very shaky and unable to handle physical forwards. So in many respects, Everton would prefer a tie against Wigan at the moment compared to a Stoke or a West Ham.
Despite missing the midweek game against Oldham, star-man Marouanne Fellaini will be back in the side, as will Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman. The latter two players are improving with every game following their recent injury woes. They should provide a major boost for the Toffees.
Wigan have a poor record at Goodison Park, having not won at the famous old ground since 2005 when Jason Roberts scored in a 1-0 win. They have what it takes to cause the Toffee’s problems with their passing style, but they are not the team that could really take advantage of Everton’s current problems defending set-pieces and physical contests.
Everton have good players coming back from injury and returning to form. Expect David Moyes side to scrape through this one and head back down to Wembley for the fourth time in five seasons.
Verdict: Everton 2-1 Wigan Athletic
City will have to much for Championship outfit Barnsley
Hows your luck, Barnsley?
With the Tykes having secured their quarterfinal place following a very respectable win away at MK Dons, they were handed the most un-enviable of draws away at the Premier League Champions, Manchester City.
Now their passage into the last-four looks especially unlikely. Especially as City seem to be taking the FA Cup very seriously indeed this season. They have fielded virtually a full strength side throughout the competition.
Why? Well, barring a dramatic collapse from Manchester United, City look set to relinquish their grip on the Premier League title after just one season. Mancini will want to keep trophies coming, and with no European silverware to go after, he will be all out for the FA Cup. The trophy that started off the City gold-rush in 2011.
Having negotiated tricky ties against Stoke and Leeds, they are heavy favorites to make it to their second FA Cup semi-final under Roberto Mancini.
Barnsley will definitely be up for it and they are sure to be backed by a fanatic away following. Can they overcome the odds and nick a famous victory? It looks very unlikely. City will run out comfortable winners in this one.
Verdict: Manchester City 3-0 Barnsley
Blackburn will continue their excellent cup run
Football is a funny old game.
After one of the most turbulent spells in the club’s history, Blackburn Rovers now find themselves on the brink of a Wembley showing.
Having stunned Arsenal at the Emirates in the last round, they would have felt confident of picking up a result anywhere before the draw was made. In the end they managed to secure a relatively favorable draw against fellow Championship outfit Millwall.
For Millwall, despite overcoming Premier League outfit Aston Villa and a potential banana skin tie against Luton Town, their domestic form has undergone a bit of a slump as of late.
They have lost six of their last seven outings in the Championship, with the win last week against a rank out-of-form Middlesborough side their first in the league since new years day.
The FA Cup however, represents an entirely different proposition. And with a sell-out likely at the New Den, the players and fans know that they will not get many better chances of making it to the semi-final of a major cup competition. Maybe even the chance of repeating their final appearance from 2004.
Blackburn will also be confident of progressing, as they have undergone somewhat of a renaissance under new boss Michael Appleton. Results have failed to compliment the level of performance that Rovers have put in recently, but there is a new feeling of positivity about the club. This of course following on from the previous calamitous reigns of Henning Berg and Steve Kean.
You have to say that having been dragged through the ringer for the last couple of years, Blackburn fans deserve this trip to Wembley. I think that in Jordan Rhodes, they have goalscorer that Millwall lack. That should give them the edge in what promises to be a tight encounter.
Verdict: Millwall 0-1 Blackburn Rovers
Chelsea will be wary of Chicharito, but expect this one to go to a replay
The tie of the round, as Manchester United—fresh from their Champions League exploits against Real Madrid—take on an extremely unstable and erratic Chelsea outfit.
This game has all of the precedents in place to become a real fiery encounter.
Benitez’s "rant" following his sides victory at Middlesborough has stirred up what is already a volatile situation at Chelsea, whilst the Spanish chiefs relationship with opposition boss Sir Alex Ferguson could only be described as turbulent at best. The subplots and connotations run right through this one.
You get the impression that the "rant" will go one of two ways for Benitez. His players will either rally behind him and put in a performance. Or he will have lost the dressing room completely, resulting in a collapse in their already inconsistent form.
As for their opposition, Manchester United’s priorities certainly lie elsewhere at the minute, with the Champions League and Premier League titles still to play for. But there have been murmurings that United are serious about the treble again. So the FA Cup must not be taken lightly by the Red Devils.
Alex Ferguson will rotate his squad for this one, but for Chelsea, that could mean a return for Chicharito Hernandez, a player who has fared especially well as of late against the men from the Kings Road. He always seems to score against Chelsea and has already netted twice against them in two outings this season.
It’ll be interesting to see how seriously Chelsea approach this one. Finishing in the top four looks to be their priority, but they still have two pieces of silverware to fight for in the form of the FA Cup and the Europa League. Do they have the squad to carry the fight on all three fronts?
Possibly. But Chelsea’s line-up in this one will reveal a lot about their priorities going forward. Although they will be itching to do well in a competition which has brought them unprecedented success down the years.
Ashley Cole will be looking for an unprecedented eight winners medal in this competition, whilst Frank Lampard and John Terry both have the chance of picking up a fifth.
With both teams likely to make changes for the game and with United weary from their Champions League battles, this one will go to a replay.
Verdict: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea