FA Cup Weekend Preview: Premier League Giants Hope to Avoid Slaying
An FA Cup weekend is always a special time in English football. The longest-running tournament in the entire sport deserves respect. It is steeped in decades of history and tradition, which make it such a coveted trophy for those who compete.
The fourth round sees the competition narrowed down to 32 teams, ranging from the multimillionaires of the Premier League to the semi-professional conference four divisions below. The FA Cup is football's great leveller—any team on the right day can get cut down to size.
The biggest matches of the weekend are previewed here, with a look at each team and their form entering the ties, while we will also take a quicker look at the smaller encounters.
Arsenal vs. Coventry
Where: The Emirates Stadium
When: Friday 24 January, 7:45 p.m. GMT
FA Cup action kicks off on Friday evening with what should be an epic mismatch.
League One side Coventry know that anything can happen in a one-off match, and will look to channel some cup magic against the Premier League pace-setters.
Five straight league wins have kept Arsenal at the Premier League summit, and beating Arsene Wenger's team in 2013/14 has been a very tough ask. With just 19 goals conceded, the Gunners boast the meanest defence in the division.
Coventry would be in the play-offs if not for a damaging 10-point deduction this season, but needed a very late equaliser to draw with Preston in their last outing. Taking down Barnsley in the third round, however, showed that the Sky Blues can surprise against higher-league opponents.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Coventry
Romantics may be hoping for a different score, but it is hard to see this match go any other way. If Coventry can keep the result down to within reasonable numbers, it will be an impressive display for the Midlands outfit.
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool
Where: Dean Court
When: Saturday 25 January, 12.45 p.m. GMT
This is the second of eight clashes over the weekend that features a Premier League side against lower-league opposition. Bournemouth will have their work cut out against Luis Suarez and company, but will bank on their home support and a little bit of luck.
Bournemouth are yet to record a league win in 2014—a replay triumph in the third round over non-league Burton the only time this year the side has savoured victory.
Liverpool, on the other hand, recovered from a Christmas stumble to put together a run of three straight wins. That run ended at the weekend with an entertaining draw with Aston Villa, but the side have smashed 11 goals in their four 2014 fixtures and will be looking for more on Saturday.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-4 Liverpool
It is batten down the hatches time for Bournemouth. Oldham were summarily dispatched in the previous round, and the Championship strugglers will be fortunate to avoid a similar fate.
Man City vs. Watford
Where: Etihad Stadium
When: Saturday 25 January, 3 p.m. GMT
Already in the League Cup final, Manchester City can still theoretically pursue a quadruple in 2013/14. The FA Cup will not be the highest priority, but the Citizens will still be hungry for victory against second-tier opposition in the shape of Watford.
Explosive is perhaps the best word to describe City's recent play. Since the start of December, the side has racked up a storming 14 wins and two draws, scoring 50 goals in the process. Scary numbers indeed.
Watford, on the other hand, can barely buy a win, having tasted league victory just twice since the beginning of October. A promising start to the Championship for the Hornets has faded to mid-table obscurity.
Prediction: Manchester City 5-0 Watford
The formbook should not lie for this one. Anything less than a heavy victory for the Manchester City Juggernaut will be regarded as a disappointment.
Sunderland vs. Kidderminster
Where: Stadium of Light
When: Saturday 25 January, 3 p.m. GMT
An intimidating three divisions separate Premier League side Sunderland from Kidderminster of the Football Conference. On a one-off basis, though, this is the kind of match that has "potential upset" written all over it.
Without pulling punches, 2013/14's league campaign has been a disaster for Sunderland. With that being said, five of the club's last 10 games—three of which have been cup ties—have ended in victory for the Mackems.
Kidderminster have already played four games in this year's FA Cup, scoring an impressive 11 times. Recent Conference form has been less impressive, though, perhaps inevitably so given the rigours of a cup run.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-2 Kidderminster
The Harriers have great goalscoring potential, and have a great chance to ruffle the feathers of a Sunderland team slowly finding its feet.
Chelsea vs. Stoke
Where: Stamford Bridge
When: Sunday 26 January, 3.30 p.m. GMT
The sole all-Premier League tie of the fourth round finishes the weekend's action in West London. Chelsea's in-form stars have the task of breaking down an always awkward Stoke side in order to further their bid for silverware on multiple fronts.
Jose Mourinho's men have won all five of their last Premier League encounters, including tough clashes against Manchester United and Liverpool. The Special One will however be aware that Stoke are one of only two teams to beat the Blues in league play.
A look at their opponent's form tells a different story. Stoke have suffered four defeats and one draw in their last five outings. Two of those reverses saw five goals leaked, uncharacteristic for the tenacious Potters.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Stoke
Logic says this should be an easy match for the hosts. However, logic has rarely figured in Stoke's game plan, and their physical approach will aim to make life very difficult for Chelsea's flair players.
The Best of the Rest
Nottingham Forest vs. Preston (Friday, 8 p.m. GMT)
Shortly after Arsenal get going, high-flying Forest host Preston. Can the home side combine an encouraging season in the Championship with the added burden of a successful cup run?
Birmingham vs. Swansea City (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
Another Championship vs. Premier League clash takes place in the West Midlands on Saturday afternoon. Birmingham, however, will fancy their chances more than most this weekend to shock their rivals and advance.
Cardiff have been in pitiful form throughout the Premier League season. However, Bolton have not set the Championship alight, either. The Welsh side could get a well-needed confidence boost in the Reebok Stadium.
Huddersfield vs. Charlton (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
This all-Championship tie represents the best chance of making a mark on the 2013/14 season for both clubs. Huddersfield and Charlton will give their all on Saturday in the hope of making the fifth round.
Port Vale vs. Brighton (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
Both Port Vale in League One and Brighton of the Championship are hopeful of promotion come May. On the verge of the play-offs, the pair can use an encouraging FA Cup run as a springboard to the top six.
Rochdale vs. Sheff Wed (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
Rochdale are one of only two League Two sides left in the FA Cup as we enter the fourth round. Two divisions represents a big jump up in quality against the Owls, who nevertheless are in poor form and vulnerable.
Southampton vs. Yeovil (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
The Saints are without former chairman Nicola Cortese, but still have Mauricio Pochettino at the helm after the Argentine opted to stay on. The manager will hope to keep on-pitch matters positive with a win at home to dangerous Yeovil.
Southend vs. Hull (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
The second lowest-ranked team in the FA Cup welcome Premier League opposition to Essex.
Wigan vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 3 p.m. GMT)
Any hopes Wigan had for a quick return to the Premier League are fading fast. The chance to give higher-division opposition a bloody nose, in the shape of Crystal Palace, could help to restore some pride to the struggling Latics.
Stevenage vs. Everton (Saturday, 5.30 p.m. GMT)
Floundering at the foot of League One, Stevenage will have to play the game of a lifetime to get a result at home to the powerful Toffees.
Sheff United vs. Fulham (Sunday, 1 p.m GMT)
The Blades have a strong cup tradition, and will hope that and home advantage give them the edge against Premier League opposition.