FA Cup Weekend Preview, Game-by-Game Guide: Premier League Top Four Collide

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

FA Cup Weekend Preview, Game-by-Game Guide: Premier League Top Four Collide

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    The 2013-14 FA Cup enters its most intense stage yet this weekend, with the field narrowed down to just 16 remaining teams for the competition's fifth round.

    At this point, the Premier League clubs are well and truly in motion with their tournaments, no less than 10 top-flight clubs still left in the process, while League One's Sheffield United stand as the lowest-ranked outfit still left in the running.

    Ahead of this weekend's whittling down, we've taken a look at each of the eight matches on the slate, providing all the essential fixture details, as well as a bit more insight into each encounter.

    All injury updates and team news comes courtesy of Fantasy Football Scout and Physio Room.

1. Sunderland vs. Southampton

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    Date: Saturday, Feb. 15

    Time: 12:45 p.m. GMT/7:45 a.m. ET

    Where: Stadium of Light


    The Stadium of Light will undoubtedly be an entertaining environment to be in this weekend, but the thralls of fans on hand in the northeast might not want to get their hopes up for the meeting between Sunderland and Southampton.

    That's because the red-and-white pairing have drawn their last three league meetings, although a November Black Cats win in the League Cup has come during that same spell.

    The Saints have overcome any superstitious capitulation that some supposed might befall them following the departure of chairman Nicola Cortese and are currently unbeaten in their last eight.

    Sunderland, on the other hand, aren't in quite as strong a vein of form, and now have to recover from a miserable 2-0 defeat at home to Hull City.

    Steven Fletcher and Carlos Cuellar are the only outfield concerns for Gus Poyet, who will likely have to do without the latter, while Mauricio Pochettino will have to continue on without the injured Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez.

2. Sheffield Wednesday vs. Charlton Athletic

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    Date: Saturday, Feb. 15

    Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET

    Where: Hillsborough Stadium

    Championship foes turned FA Cup rivals, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic will undoubtedly each feel that they have as much right to be in the tournament's next phases as the other.

    Nine points apart in England's second tier, neither outfit has been spectacular this league term, but the FA Cup is a platform on which to shake those bonds and do the impossible.

    By no means are the Championship pair set up for a classic encounter; Wednesday have the 20th worst home defence in the division, but the problem is that the Addicks' attacking away from home is just as lowly ranked.

    Since moving back into the Championship in 2012, Charlton have claimed just one point from three encounters with the Owls, but Chris Powell will be praying that record can be handed a major boost on Saturday.

3. Cardiff City vs. Wigan Athletic

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    Date: Saturday, Feb. 15

    Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET

    Where: Cardiff City Stadium

    Technically, Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic sit just 10 places away from one another in the English league system, putting a much tighter emphasis on this matchup than a difference in divisions would suggest.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's impact in the Welsh capital has been noticeable, but with the club having won just three of their last 10 outings across all competitions, taking advantage of lesser opposition would make for a useful FA Cup morale boost.

    This is the first meeting between these two sides since they were both a part of the Championship's make-up during the 2004-05 season.

    In that campaign, the Latics managed to stage home and away wins over Cardiff City, so while the Bluebirds may have moved above their opponents in stature since then, history would suggest that Wigan nonetheless pose an issue.

4. Manchester City vs. Chelsea

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    Date: Saturday, Feb. 15

    Time: 5:15 p.m. GMT/12:15 p.m. ET

    Where: Etihad Stadium


    This weekend sees the Premier League's top-four inhabitants take each other on in what promises to be a climactic couple of clashes, with Manchester City playing host to Chelsea in Saturday's latest kick off.

    It's been little under a fortnight since Jose Mourinho last came out on top of this Battle of the Blues, his Chelsea team having claimed a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium already this month.

    Javi Garcia, Matija Nastasic and Samir Nasri are all striving to recover in time for this weekend's game, but it will likely be a tad too early for Sergio Aguero or Fernandinho to make their comebacks.

    In the West Londoners' camp, Mourinho has some defensive concerns, both John Terry and Gary Cahill currently listed as doubts for the weekend's encounter, potentially leaving some gaping holes precisely where the team doesn't need them.

5. Everton vs. Swansea City

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    Date: Sunday, Feb. 16

    Time: 1:30 p.m. GMT/8:30 a.m. ET

    Where: Goodison Park

    Life as Swansea City manager got off to a perfect start for Garry Monk, but the ecstasy of a 3-0 win over Cardiff City last weekend was swiftly brought closer to earth thanks to the midweek draw at Stoke City.

    Everton are in a similar boat in terms of form, having lost two of their last three games.

    However, Roberto Martinez can be extremely hopeful of his team's prospects, with the Toffees boasting an enviable record against the Swans since the Welsh giants made their way back to the top flight.

    In the five Premier League meetings between these two teams since December 2011, Swansea have taken just one point, which came from a 0-0 stalemate, their last visit to Goodison Park.

    There's a distant hope that Sunday's visitors may be able to welcome Michu back from injury, and while Everton's injury table is slightly more stacked, the home team are expected to bring any recovered faces back in just yet.

6. Sheffield United vs. Nottingham Forest

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    Date: Sunday, Feb. 16

    Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET

    Where: Bramall Lane

    Sheffield United sit as the minnows of the remaining FA Cup field, with all other representatives being of Championship grade or higher.

    The League One hopefuls will therefore have a touch of the underdog's support with them, and a potentially fruitful draw given that Nottingham Forest are far from the most difficult test that could have been pitted opposite them.

    That being said, Billy Davies' men are now 16 games unbeaten across all competitions, while the Blades hardly inspired with a long, drawn-out affair against Fulham in the previous round.

    These two have a long and detailed playing history against one another, and Sheffield United will hope that their record of triumphing in six of their last seven FA Cup matches against Forest is one that only stands to improve on Sunday.

7. Arsenal vs. Liverpool

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    Date: Sunday, Feb. 16

    Time: 4 p.m. GMT/ 11 a.m. ET

    Where: Emirates Stadium

    Our other top-four extravaganza this weekend, Arsenal and Liverpool are set to meet for the second time in the space of eight days, the Reds having claimed a momentous 5-1 win over the Gunners at Anfield.

    On that day, Arsene Wenger's side showed none of the tenacity that had first propelled them to the summit of the English top flight and can only hope that FA Cup fever results in a huge turnaround of the scoreline.

    Not since August 2011 have the Merseysiders triumphed on Arsenal's turf, but one would have to argue that Brendan Rodgers' side are in the best shape they've been in for some years.

    Glen Johnson is the only hope from the Liverpool camp to make a return to fitness this weekend, while Thomas Vermaelen could give the North Londoners a slight boost.

8. Brighton vs. Hull City

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    Date: Monday, Feb. 17

    Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET

    Where: Falmer Stadium

    Once again, Brighton find themselves teetering on the edge of a post-season playoff campaign, but consistency has been the main issue eluding the south-coast club thus far.

    Steve Bruce's Hull City have been plagued by a similar stigma of late, and just two wins in their last seven matches isn't the best patch of form the Tigers have gone through this season.

    These two sides have an all too logical tendency to see whichever team is hosting come out on top, the home side having won four of the last six league fixtures between them.

    However, Oscar Garcia will be pleased to know that his club has never lost to Hull in the FA Cup, their back-to-back meetings in 1985 and 1986 each going in the way of the Seagulls.