With no Premier League football this weekend, all eyes in England will be on the FA Cup. In the round of 16, league-leaders Manchester City surprisingly went out 1-0 to Wigan leaving an easier path to the final for the remaining clubs. Leicester City vs. Chelsea is clearly the match of the weekend as both teams have a legitimate shot at lifting the trophy if they can progress past this round.
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
How they got here
Third Round (Away): Leicester City 0-0 Fleetwood Town
Third Round (Home Replay): Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
Fourth Round (Away): Leicester City 5-1 Peterborough United
Fifth Round (Home): Leicester City 1-0 Sheffield United
Third Round (Away): Chelsea 0-0 Norwich City
Third Round (Home Replay): Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PK) Norwich City
Fourth Round(Home): Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle United
Fifth Round (Home): Chelsea 4-0 Hull City
Leicester City enter this fixture having lost their last six quarter-final ties in all competitions, dating back to 2001. However, this is their best chance to win a trophy since their magical run to the 2015-2016 Premier League Championship. They also enter the tie with a full week of rest.
Always a tough place to play, Leicester City should be bolstered by their fervent home supporters at King Power Stadium. With no replays in the quarter-finals, playing at home could prove incredibly important.
Manager Claude Puel certainly has the talent to take the game to Chelsea. If he does that, look for Kelechi Iheanacho to start, playing behind Jamie Vardy. Iheanacho is coming off a great performance over the weekend, grabbing a goal and an assist in twenty minutes. If Puel chooses to set up defensively, Shinji Okazaki will most likely line up next to Vardy as both thrive in pressuring the opposition’s back line. Mark Albrighton would also start in the center midfield next to N’didi as Leicester set up in the classic 4-4-2.
Chelsea enter the tie on a short week, following a 3-0 defeat in the Champions League against Barcelona. However, it does not get much easier for Chelsea as they have to travel to King Power Stadium to play Leicester. Despite that, they have gone unbeaten in their last six meetings against Leicester. Sitting five points out of the top four, the FA Cup is certainly a secondary competition for Chelsea at this point. However, with the upcoming international break, they do not have to worry about resting players for Premier League games in the near future.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Chelsea squad with regards to the futures of both manager Antonio Conte and attacker Eden Hazard. Conte will want to use this fixture to relieve some of the pressure that has been mounting on him. Chelsea desperately need someone to step up in the attack besides Hazard and Willian. They have relied far too heavily on both players recently so when either player has an off day the attack struggles mightily.
Leicester City 2-1 Chelsea
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
How they got here
Third Round (Away): Manchester United 2-0 Derby County
Fourth Round (Home): Manchester United 4-0 Yeovil Town
Fifth Round (Away): Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield Town
Brighton & Hove Albion
Third Round (Home): Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 Crystal Palace
Fourth Round (Away): Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 Middlesbrough
Fifth Round (Home): Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City
Having been eliminated from the Champions League after a dreadful home performance against Sevilla, Manchester United will be eager to bounce back with another game at home. Jose Mourinho got the tactics completely wrong against Sevilla and was not aggressive enough. Thus, expect him to play a very attacking side against Brighton and really take the game to them. This is exactly what the home supporters will expect and want to see. Juan Mata should start for Manchester United as he is their most creative player. Against a team like Brighton who will sit back, he will be a key to breaking down their defense.
With Manchester United comfortably in the top four and out of the Champions League, there is no reason for Mourinho not to play his strongest side. They have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven FA Cup matches and will look to continue that against a Brighton side that struggles mightily to score.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton enter the fixture in great form having picked up wins in four of their last six matches. Firmly out of the relegation zone, Brighton should look to play their strongest side against Manchester United. Last season’s player of the year for Brighton, Anthony Knockaert, will miss the tie after picking up a red card against Everton. Midfielder, Dale Stephens, also picked up a small injury against Everton but is expected to play Saturday. Glenn Murray has been in great goal-scoring form recently, even earning some attention for an England call-up, and will look to continue that against Manchester United.
The key for Brighton pulling the upset involves stifling Manchester United’s attack early. Manchester United’s fans were incredibly restless and dissatisfied with their squad’s performance against Sevilla. If they start poorly again, the fans will jump on the players and quickly increase the pressure on the home squad. However, if Brighton concede early, it will be easy sailing for the Red Devils.
Manchester United 3-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
How they got here:
Third Round (Away): Swansea City 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Third Round (Home Replay): Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Fourth Round (Away): Swansea City 1-1 Notts County
Fourth Round (Home Replay): Swansea City 8-1 Notts County
Fifth Round (Away): Swansea City 0-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Fifth Round (Home Replay): Swansea City 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Third Round (Home): Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 AFC Wimbledon
Fourth Round (Away): Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Newport County
Fourth Round (Home Replay): Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Newport County
Fifth Round (Away): Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Rochdale
Fifth Round (Home Replay): Tottenham Hotspur 6-1 Rochdale
Swansea have been relatively fortunate with their draws and have yet to play a Premier League side. Since taking over as manager midway through the year, Carlos Carvahal has brought Swansea from 20th place up to 14th. Their leading goal-scorer, Jordan Ayew, picked up a red card against Huddersfield and will miss the tie. They managed to scrape a draw against Huddersfield over the weekend with only 20% possession.
In order to advance, Swansea will have to play similarly and allow Tottenham to have the majority of the possession. Spurs do struggle at times when they have the majority of the possession so Carvalhal will most likely try to exasperate that and frustrate Spurs by giving them no room to play into. The road to success for The Swans involves them grabbing a goal off a set piece or counter-attack and then just defending their hearts out until the final whistle.
Tottenham has made difficult work of a relatively easy run of fixtures in the FA Cup so far. They needed replays against both Rochdale (League 1) and Newport County (League 2) to advance. However, having dropped out of the Champions League, and with the league title out of reach, the FA Cup is Tottenham’s best chance of winning their first trophy since 2007. Thus, Mauricio Pochettino should put out a strong side against The Swans. Star striker, Harry Kane, picked up a nasty ankle injury against Bournemouth so he will miss the tie. However, Son Heung-min is in the form of his life and should thrive carrying the load up top.
Tottenham tends to struggle to break down teams that sit back and pack the box which is something Swansea will most likely do. However, an attacking line of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son and Erik Lamela should give Swansea trouble. All four are great with their movement and fluidity and can easily interchange with each other. This sort of movement will draw the Swansea defense out and give Tottenham more room to play into.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Swansea City
Wigan Athletic vs. Southampton
How they got here:
Third Round (Away): Southampton 1-0 Fulham
Fourth Round (Home): Southampton 1-0 Watford
Fifth Round (Away): Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
First Round (Home) Wigan Athletic 2-1 Crawley Town
Second Round (Away): Wigan Athletic 1-1 AFC Fylde
Second Round (Home Replay): Wigan Atheltic 3-2 AFC Fylde
Third Round (Away): Wigan Athletic 2-2 Bournemouth
Third Round (Home Replay): Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth
Fourth Round (Home): Wigan Athletic 2-0 West Ham United
Fifth Round (Home): Wigan Athletic 1-0 Manchester City
Second in League 1, Wigan have been the Cinderella Story of the FA Cup. They thwarted Manchester City’s chances for the quadruple with a 1-0 win at home in the fifth round. In addition, they’ve also knocked out two other Premier League sides in previous rounds. Wigan have been stout in defense all year and currently, have the best defense in League 1. They have also been immense at home in the FA Cup, with all of their victories coming at DW Stadium.
Will Grigg leads the FA Cup in goals with seven and will look to continue that against Southampton. He scored the lone goal for Wigan against Manchester City with a brilliant finish. Overall, Wigan should feel very comfortable heading into this tie. They thrive playing at home and have already shown that they can play well against Premier League sides. Wigan should have no problem containing a Southampton attack that is often bereft of quality.
Having recently fired their manager Mauricio Pellegrino, Southampton are in a bit of limbo right now. Mark Hughes was just appointed as Southampton’s new manager and this will be his first game in charge. Hughes, who last managed Stoke City, will likely use this game to test squad he has just taken over. Look for him to experiment not only with tactics but also with the personnel he puts out.
Overall, the FA cup has been a beacon of hope for Southampton in a season where they have surprisingly been in the relegation battle. They have had a relatively difficult run to the quarter-finals and have beaten two other Premier League sides in the process. Currently, the FA Cup will be playing second fiddle in Hughes’ mind, with his main objective being avoiding relegation.
Wigan 1-0 Southampton
Featured image by thefa.com
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