The FA Cup is on everyone’s lips again as England’s premier cup competition returns to our screens and to the hearts of the fans of the eight teams that are to contest the quarterfinals. Four of the teams competing will wake up on Monday morning knowing that a place in a Wembley semifinal is theirs.
In this article, I'll profile five of the players likely to be the key protagonists in the weekend’s action. Many of these men have a point to prove or are playing for clubs for whom the FA Cup has a higher importance this season in light of failure elsewhere.
Comment down below with your thoughts and predictions, and let me know which of these stars will make a key impact come the weekend.
In seasons past, it would have been unthinkable for Wayne Rooney to have been left out of the Manchester United starting XI for a game of the magnitude of Tuesday night’s Champions League crunch match with Real Madrid. However, despite his impressive showing against Norwich over the weekend, Rooney found himself on the bench, an uncomfortable spectator in the opening stages.
Despite eventually entering the fray, Rooney was subdued and ultimately unable to influence proceedings, as Nani’s red card handed the initiative to Real. As the United players trudged off the Old Trafford turf following the contest, Rooney had more than most to contemplate. Indeed, his omission was a subplot that riddled almost all reports of the game.
But what better way to answer the doubters and to once again enforce the perception that he does belong in the same breath as the world’s finest than to demonstrate his prodigal ability in a crunch FA Cup quarterfinal?
Unless Rooney ends the season strongly, the rumours will continue to fly suggesting that his future lies away from Manchester, or at the very least, away from the high altitude of United’s forward line.
With their Premier League title defence looking evermore unlikely as the games roll past, and with their European "dream" over before it even began, the FA Cup has taken on even more importance than usual for Manchester City. By the same token, who can forget their famous breakthrough in the competition back in 2011; the trophy was arguably the catalyst for their increased status and further success.
For City to prosper this time around, Yaya Toure will need to be in the imperious form he was a year ago. Last season, the younger Toure was credited as being the key figure in City’s late assault on England’s throne, and while he has still been in excellent fettle this time around, the marauding performances perhaps haven’t been quite as devastating. Still, he, along with elder sibling Kolo, were key protagonists in Monday night’s victory over Aston Villa, and he also scored in City’s recent victory over Chelsea.
Perhaps Yaya won’t need to be on such dominant form against Barnsley on Saturday, but he is one of the most likely figures to make the difference early on, thus giving City an easier afternoon than the Tykes might otherwise afford them!
I wrote recently of Arouna Kone’s recent sharp form for Wigan, speculating that his goals may be the difference between the Latics preserving their Premier League status and their inevitable submission to gravity and descent to the Championship. Could his goals also be central to their advancement in England’s premier domestic cup competition?
Capable of shooting with power and testing goalkeepers from a distance, or from terrorising defences with his pace and incisive running, Kone could well be in a position to trouble Everton’s back line.
The absence of Phil Jagielka, who faces surgery following a nasty tackle from Reading frontman Adam Le Fondre, will be a huge loss for the Toffees. His likely replacement, Johnny Heitinga, has endured some torrid experiences this season, and the Ivorian sharpshooter may be confident that he will find some joy at Goodison Park on Saturday morning.
Could a place in Wembley be the lift Wigan need to imbue them with confidence enough to escape the grips of the EPL relegation struggle?
Could this weekend provide another key occasion in what is proving to be a phenomenal year for young Victor Moses?
I recently described this season, once again, as the "coming of age" of the young Nigerian, and another excellent performance against Manchester United on Sunday would be another valuable stepping stone in the career of one of Africa’s finest.
Chelsea, like City before them, are in danger of a season derailed far too long before the final whistle. While the Manchester side still have a title to fight for—albeit in hope rather than expectation—Chelsea are left trying merely to salvage their place in the top four. Thus a trip to Wembley, and the chance to defend their FA Cup, could be the only silver lining in another muddled season.
With Rafa Benitez the least popular man in West London at the moment, an important victory over Manchester United could be a key way of easing the pressure at Stamford Bridge.
While Chelsea have a handful of players who can make a difference in a key clash, Moses brings directness and searing pace. Currently still riding the momentum of Nigeria’s terrific Afcon victory, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moses replicate his Man of the Match performance in Chelsea’s Capital One Cup elimination of United in the autumn.
Bursting to fame as the hotshot central to Huddersfield’s return to the Championship, the young Scot striker didn’t stick around to reap his rewards at the John Smith’s Stadium. He instead moved to a club he described as "Premier League in everything but name," and moved West to Blackburn Rovers.
The international has been one of the few bright points in another troubled season for the Riversiders.
Three managers have taken the hot seat, and the fans’ ire has, at times, appeared to have unsettled the team and undermined their confidence. Not Rhodes, however, who has flourished on his return to the second tier.
While the Terriers linger near the foot of the table, Rhodes’ goals at Blackburn (22 so far this season), have helped the Rovers maintain some semblance of form, and they currently sit 13th. Facing a daunting trip to Millwall this weekend, another composed, mature outing from Rhodes could see him guide his club into an unlikely semifinal birth.
What a boon that would be to the beleaguered Blackburn faithful.