By Brian Beard | 8th MAR 2020
For the first time since 2005-06 all eight FA Cup quarter-finalists are from the top flight, after Manchester United`s 3-0 victory over Wayne Rooney`s Derby County. On paper it would seem that the four favourites for a semi-final berth would be Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, but this is the FA Cup.
Although a Premier League team losing to a Premier League team would not be considered a seismic shock it would constitute an upset if, for example, Norwich beat United. The other ties are not so straight forward.
Newcastle United v Manchester City
It is indeed an irony that every season when the FA Cup comes around and Newcastle are still involved everyone seems to trundle out the usual stats about the black and white stripes not having won a trophy since the black and white 1950s, forgetting of course the Fairs Cup success in 1969. But it was the decade before, in the days of Wor Jackie – Milburn- when Newcastle last won the FA Cup and they did it three times in five years, including the 1955 win over City.
It`s a different ball game now of course but Newcastle have one big advantage in hosting the holders, home advantage for the last possible time in the competition. St James` Park and its passionate, some might say, blinkered, support could prove a massive plus on the day, maybe. And as in all FA Cup ties the key factor is, on the day. Who is, literally, up for the cup. Perversely that might also go against Newcastle because while they might raise their game because this is a last chance for success this season City approach every game the same way.
I don`t think City will fail to beat Newcastle, for many reasons, but chief amongst those reasons is the most obvious; City have better players, and more of them. They have greater strength in depth and a potential bench that is better than most Premier League sides 1st X1 AND they are used to winning. Newcastle`s best, and probably only chance, is if they play out of their skins and City have a bad day, as Liverpool did losing to Watford.
PREDICTION: City to go through
Sheffield United v Arsenal
United, in their first quarter-final since 2014, must be favourites to win this tie for a number of reasons, Bramall Lane`s home support being one of those reasons. United`s line-ups this season, whatever the personnel, has been the personification of team effort. The collective total of individual work rate, work ethic and application has been second to none and Chris Wilder`s organization has produced a genuine hope of Champions` League qualification.
Arsenal, despite a discernable improvement under Arteta, still fluctuate between impressive and, `we don`t fancy it today`. When Arsenal are bad they are dire with their all too frequent lack of attitude and application, not a mind-set visiting teams should have when playing at Bramall Lane.
Biggest threat to Blades is 18-year old Gabriel Martinelli, who has been sensational for the Gunners this season. He has been their brightest spark by some distance though Pepe has started to show why Arsenal smashed their club-record fee to sign him.
This tie is a clash of styles, ideology and to some extent culture. To me it seems that a lot of foreign players struggle to make sense of the inherent approach to the FA Cup we have in this country. There is no such struggle under Chris Wilder.
PREDICTION: Sheffield United to win
Leicester City v Chelsea
I think this is the hardest one to call and will probably come down to experience of Leicester against the effervescence of the Chelsea youngsters.
Leicester under Brendan Rogers were making a good fist of finishing runners-up to Liverpool in the title race until they hit the buffers but they are still odds-on to gain a Champions’ League berth come May.
City have one of the very best goalkeepers in young Schmeichel and the defence in front of him is bettered only by Liverpool. Their midfield is more consistent than Chelsea and they have Jamie Vardy, a hungry and insatiable striker whose predatory instincts should have Gareth Southgate begging him to reconsider his international retirement.
Chelsea blow hot and cold. When they are hot they are almost unplayable but the learning process their young players are having to go through is proving a little too much for inexperience to handle. Their goalkeeping situation isn’t as secure as Leicester`s and their defence is more susceptible to errors while in attack Frank Lampard needs someone to score goals.
PREDICTION: Leicester to win
Norwich City v Manchester United
Manchester United seem to have regained their mojo – significantly without Paul Pogba. And not only is Bruno Fernandes proving to be every bit as good United were hoping he would be, better in fact, they also seem to have unearthed a gem in Odion Ighalo. Go on, how many people thought, who? when he was first mooted as an OT target, and when they worked out who it was again asked, WHO? But I spotted something in a couple of the goals he has scored so far, he is no mug in front of goal, or is he. Looking closely at his contact with the ball as he scored it looks very much like he actually disguises his intention when he goes for goal – a massive plus for a striker. Either that or its been a couple of flukes, we will find out conclusively very quickly.
Norwich are heading for the Championship, even the good folk in East Anglia know that but as the blue half of Manchester found out, The Canaries can, on their day, beat anyone. Unfortunately, they haven`t had too many of those days. But I can see Norwich as regarding this tie, and the FA Cup, as a swansong and an ideal way to say goodbye to the top flight.
They have some really good players in the Norwich team, notably Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki. And I will be very surprised if either of them are in a Norwich shirt next season. Cantwell has a direct, penetrative running game that the heart of the united defence will not fancy one bit and Pukki is the kind of predatory striker, a bit like United coach OGS, who can come up with a goal, of any type, at any time.
PREDICTION: I am going for a surprise result, Norwich to win
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.