The F.A. Cup rolls around again as the world’s oldest football competition reaches the 4th Round stage. The usual mix of mouth-watering ties and possible upsets will dominate the pre-match build up as those left in the draw aim to take one step closer to the end-of-season Wembley showpiece.
Here are five games to watch that epitomise everything the F.A. Cup is about:
Millwall vs Aston Villa
Villa’s struggles are well documented and Tuesday’s humiliation at the hands of lowly Bradford City in the Capital One Cup semi-final only exacerbated the problems faced by manager Paul Lambert. With the very possibility of relegation from the Premier League hanging over them, the Cup competitions should be a welcome distraction. However, after missing out on another final already this week the last thing Lambert would be looking for would be a trip to south east London to face Millwall. For those not au fait with The Lions, let’s just say that Friday night’s visit to The New Den will be a testing experience for Villa’s young players. But don’t think that the hostile atmosphere is all Villa have to worry about. Millwall’s home record in the Championship is admirable and they find themselves very much in the Play-off picture and they will relish nothing more than taking a Premier League scalp, and vulnerable Villa could prove to be the fresh meat the Lions are hoping for.
Brighton vs Arsenal
Gus Poyet’s Brighton are in the thick of the promotion picture in the Championship and host a Premier League giant for the successive round as Arsenal head to the south coast on Saturday. This competition is The Gunners’ only remaining realistic opportunity this season to break their eight year trophy drought. Arsene Wenger’s team have had somewhat of a frustrating year to date and are in serious danger of missing out on one of the coveted top four places in the league. Brighton, having already dumped Newcastle United out of the Cup, won’t fear Arsenal and Wenger’s men will have to be at their best to overcome the stern test expected at the Amex Stadium.
Brentford vs Chelsea
The first of the ties to be played Sunday, January 27 sees an all west London clash at the home of League 1 club Brentford. Griffin Park is a traditional old venue and a far cry from the plush surroundings Chelsea are more accustomed to. The current F.A. Cup holders will be hoping to avoid a massive shock as they look to bounce back from semi-final elimination from the Carling Cup on Wednesday against Swansea City. Having already been forced to reliniquish their European crown, Rafa Benitez will be desperate to make a better fist of the defence of this competition. Surely only glory in May at Wembley will give him a chance of earning the right to manage the Blues on a permanent basis. But first they have to negotiate the tricky task at Brentford and this should give misfiring striker Fernando Torres the opportunity to shine for once.
Leeds United vs Tottenham Hotspur
Despite Leeds United’s current position one division below visitors Tottenham, this is a clash of two of English football’s biggest clubs. The Yorkshire based club are trying to fight their way back into the Premier League following years of decline and financial calamity while in the same period Spurs have gradually improved and flourished, taking up a similar to position in the hierarchy as Leeds found themselves in before their downfall. Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas’ main priority this season must be qualification for the Champions League so it is very likely he will rotate his squad for the trip to Elland Road. Leeds boss Neil Warnock, a spiky character when in full flow, likes nothing more than getting one over on the big boys and will send his team out to combat the more cultured Londoners. He will also rely on the famed hostile reception from the locals to upset Spurs’ rhythm. This represents one of the round’s best chances of an upset.
Oldham Athletic vs Liverpool
Having fought off a valiant Mansfield Town in Round 3, Liverpool yet again face a potential banana skin as they make the trip to League 1 side, Oldham Athletic. Brendan Rodgers’ team are in good form presently and logic suggests this assignment should not pose many problems. However, F.A. Cup history is littered with giant-killing acts and Oldham are going to need a real David versus Goliath story to come true if they are to upset the odds on Sunday. The Latics’ season is not going well but they’ll try to use the tight stadium, cold conditions and less-than-perfect playing surface as a leveller. Realistically, The Reds should have too much class and a good run in the cup will rubber stamp Rodgers’ new regime even further.