By Brian Beard | 23rd JUN 2020
Go on, hands up all of you who forgot in all the palaver of suspension of football that the FA Cup was still there needing completion. Yes, me too.
Norwich City v Manchester United
Sheffield United v Arsenal
Leicester City v Chelsea
Newcastle United v Manchester City
A quick look at the four ties might suggest the favourites, in each case, would be the away side. I say that even if Project Restart hadn`t thrown up the lack of supporters showing to be a big factor in the eventual result of Premier League fixtures played to date. For me the games we have seen at the renewal of top flight football have been far more even than they perhaps would have been so it comes down, in the main, to mind-set.
I venture to suggest that the better teams, on paper, have got the better players and therefore a superior mind-set with, of course, the one glaring exception, Arsenal.
For some reason this tie intrigues me more than the other three. Despite their problems United, on paper, should win this game, nine times out of ten but there`s just a hint that this might be that odd one out of ten.
You can dissect and analyse this one until the cows come home and for me it keeps coming back to how each set of players applies itself.
Just look back to the early season defeat of the other team in Manchester and the free-thinking, free-flowing approach of Norwich that blew City away that day. They have that within them just not consistently enough in the Premier League.
United are under pressure to attain Champions League come what may but if that doesn`t happen, they HAVE TO win the FA Cup.
Norwich have nothing to lose in this tie. Their top-flight status is virtually over but what a send off it would be if they get to Wembley, twice. And in Pukki, tenacious and predatory, they have the very striker Harry Maguire and whoever Ole plays alongside him will not relish facing. And Todd Cantwell, allegedly a target for United`s recruitment lot, is far better than anyone in a red shirt.
United`s best chance is if their talented strike force actually turns up on the day, then I can`t see the Canaries` defence coping with Rashford, Martial, Fernandes and co. But I am going for a shock Norwich win.
PREDICTION: Norwich City to win
Forget the two defeats in two so far for the Gunners because the performances were no different to pre Covid-19; apathetic, hum-drum, lacking spirit and character etc etc. In fact what the Arsenal teams have produced thus far has been glaringly similar to how they have performed since the end of the Wenger era. Pundits and fan alike go on a lot about body language and if you study carefully, or even not that carefully, there is a distinct lack of application about the way the Arsenal players have gone about their business. And a team that lacks the kind of application missing from Arsenal is not the kind of side you want to field against Sheffield United, home or away.
The approach Chris Wilder`s team has brought to the top flight has been most refreshing and the polar opposite to Arsenal. The Blades have a collective appetite that supplements a squad of decent players and that combination more than compensates, in fact exceeds, the pound for pound better players Mikel Arteta has at his disposal.
One game away from an FA Cup semi-final and just two from the final itself I suspect the United players will already be smelling the burgers and the hot dogs. Make no mistake this will be no walk in the park, for either team but if the old adage re any FA Cup tie, i.e. who ever is up for it on the day, will prevail then unless there is a complete character transplant by Arsenal there can only be one winner, Sheffield United.
Prediction: Sheffield United
Pressure games and high-profile games are what this Chelsea squad thrives on whereas Leicester will see this is a great opportunity to get one game closer to making club history and winning the FA Cup.
It will be interesting to see what emphasis Frank Lampard puts on cup success when compared to the more important task in hand, securing fourth place and entry into next season`s UCL. No question Chelsea have the superior squad and greater depth and they also have a more complete squad from inexperienced youngsters to vastly experienced World Cup and European Championship winners.
The side-bet, for want of a better expression, is that both of these teams are chasing the same goal in the Premier League and are neck and neck in the league table going into the quarter-final so, on the surface not too much between them.
Neither team is that endowed with goal scorers and Leicester are still heavily reliant on Jamie Vardy who was well below par in the recent 1-1 draw with Watford. But Chelsea have a plethora of goal getters and more of them so I am going for an away win.
PREDICTION: Chelsea to win
If Newcastle United players and fans were watching the Manchester City demolition of Burnley I`m guessing they might just as well concede now. Everyone regards the City squad as the one with the most quality, in depth, in the Premier League and arguably the best in Europe.
What is also apparent, just look at the Etihad trophy cabinet, is that unlike some `top teams`, I won`t mention Arsenal, the basics and what Didier Deschamps did so well – The Water Carrier- is always the priority for City. That way they establish control before proceeding to take the opposition apart with superior skill levels and application.
Due to the `no crowd` circumstances of the Corona restrictions the only real chance Newcastle had, 50,000 vociferous Geordies will be absent. What the team does have going for it is the impressive win over Sheffield United which fell into the category of `about time`.
When it comes down to it whichever team Pep puts out on the day it will be better than the very best available to Steve Bruce. Barring a fluke or intervention by the gods on football`s Olympus I can only see one name going into the hat for the last four.
PREDICTION: Manchester City to win
My last four for this season`s FA CUP is:
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.