FA Cup preview: Where will the astonishing upsets happen?
This weekend will not hold the usual slate of Premier League matches; instead, soccer in England will take center stage, as the FA Cup Fifth Round commences on Saturday when West Brom encounters West Ham at The Hawthorns.
Even though the quality of teams in the FA Cup vacillates between sides, one can witness a Championship, League One side, or perhaps a club in an even lower division, fight until the end against PL big dogs.
Out of the eight fixtures occurring from Saturday to Monday, which has the best chance of producing an eye-catching result?
1. Middlesbrough v. Arsenal—The reigning FA Cup champions clearly have the better roster from top to bottom, but Arsene Wenger may not have the easiest match ahead of him at the Emirates. Championship leader Middlesbrough showed wonderful second-half resiliency in a 2-0 win over Manchester City, which had a very dynamic starting XI with the appearances of gifted scorer Sergio Aguero, technically-adept midfielder David Silva and skipper Vincent Kompany. Arsenal may also have to cope with injuries to key players Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, while the Smoggies will strive for the attacking pressure that was evident against City.
2. Blackburn Rovers v. Stoke City—Stoke hasn’t lost to Blackburn in their past five meetings, but this upcoming contest may dictate a different story. Beating Swansea City 3-1 in the Fifth Round, Rovers have been able to defeat a first-division outfit handily. Similar to Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City, Blackburn managed to take control of the second half against the Swans, finally utilizing the man advantage by scoring three unanswered goals. Stoke was thrashed against Manchester City on Wednesday, and Mark Hughes will have tactical decisions to make due to a substantial injury list.
3. Preston v. Manchester United— Manchester United’s form has remained fairly streaky following their upset loss to Leicester City, and with Preston North End forced to play away at Old Trafford, few would afford the Whites a legitimate shot to compete for the win. United is the highest-ranking PL team still alive in the tournament, with the Red Devils slotted at third place in the league table. Two divisions lower, in fourth place, Preston North End stands. If Preston can establish and retain a purposeful sense of urgency, they could snag one of the more notable FA cup upsets this year.
Rest of FA Cup weekend schedule
Saturday: West Brom v. West Ham; Derby County v. Reading; Crystal Palace v. Liverpool
Sunday: Aston Villa v. Leicester City; Bradford City v. Sunderland (Bradford City surprisingly beat Chelsea, 4-2, on Jan. 24 in the FA Cup Fourth Round)