After three years during which the FA Cup Final has been diminished by having Premier League matches on the same day, and the following weekend, it has been confirmed that the 2014 FA Cup Final will revert to being the end-of-season showcase as befits the world’s oldest cup competition.
Traditionalists will be pleased with this scheduling change for 2014, at the same time as they scratch their heads with bewilderment at the prospects for the 2013 FA Cup Final. With 32 teams still in the competition, it’s had to pick the Wembley finalists at this early stage. However, many of the top teams are still in the competition with Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur being the notable top 4.
Chelsea, in particular, will be seeking the reassurance of beating third-tier club Brenford in their 4th Round match on Saturday after the ignominy of losing to Swansea in the League Cup Semi-Final on Wednesday. The beleaguered European champions have been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week – not only did they lose to Swansea but Chelsea player Eden Hazard’s haphazard kick to retrieve a ball from a time-wasting ballboy has produced a flurry of negative media activity.
Interim manager Rafa Benitez will be eager to secure Chelsea’s progress to the next round as other national and international silverware is looking tough to secure. Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech remains positive saying “It looked like we were back on course but we have had another blip. It’s clear we need to be more consistent. We are still in the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Europa Cup. Nothing is finished yet. These are trophies that we can still win”.
Chelsea have won the FA Cup an astonishing four times in the past six seasons and bookmaker Coral place them on equal footing with rivals Manchester City and Manchester United at the moment with identical odds of 5/1 that they will lift the FA Cup on Saturday 11 May. But this is only the fourth round. All three teams still have to win through the fifth round, the quarter-finals, and the semi-finals before they can scent victory at Wembley.
Nine of the remaining 14 Premier League teams are playing away in FA Cup fixtures this weekend. Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa face tricky away ties but the biggest matches of this weekend feature Manchester City and Manchester United.
Manchester United, at pole position in the Premier League, has a home tie against Fulham. With home advantage, they are 3/10 favourites with bookmaker William Hill to win through to the 5th round against the struggling Cottagers.
Manchester City travel to Stoke on Saturday, where the last 5 matches between the 2 sides have ended in a draw. Manager Roberto Mancini will be hoping for a win as, although Manchester City’s form has improved in the past few weeks, his hopes of topping the Premiership have nonetheless be diminishing with Manchester United’s dominant play. Intriguingly, with the rumours of showman Mario Balotelli leaving for AC Milan, this could be the last match he plays for City.
Stoke will be keen to revenge their 2011 Wembley defeat as City player James Milner acknowledges, saying “I’m sure Stoke would like to get one over us for the 2011 final. But we’ll be doing our best to give our supporters another day out at Wembley, that’s for certain”. The Blues have not won at the Potteries since 1999 but the 4,000 fans expected to travel from Manchester are sure to be cheering their side on, and City will start as favourites to win with betting odds of 4/5 from bookmaker William Hill versus odds of 7/2 for a Stoke win.
The FA Cup 4th Round kicks off tonight with struggling Aston Villa taking on Millwall. Villa is only one point above the relegation zone and a loss in South London, on top of Tuesday’s departure from the Capital One Cup at the hands of League 2 side Bradford, will add pressure on to the bowed shoulders of Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert.