FA Cup Fourth Round Preview: Upset at Gigg Lane?

fa cupHere are The Football Lab’s thoughts ahead of the weekend’s 16 FA Cup Fourth Round ties. Out of form sides Derby and Manchester United go head-to-head on Friday night, struggling League One side Colchester host Champions League chasers Tottenham. The lowest ranked team in this competition is fourth tier Carlisle United, who face Merseyside opposition for the second time this season in a money-spinning tie with Everton.

Derby v Man Utd

Derby lost 4-1 at Burnley on Monday night but they played quite well for much of the game. They created a lot of chances and dominated the midfield, but did not test the goalkeeper enough. The Rams are on a bad run of form but they have got some favourable fixtures coming up and should get back in the hunt for the top two. There is a lot of pressure on Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal at the moment and Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Southampton certainly hindered his cause. The Red Devils show that they want to win this competition. They should drop Marouane Fellaini, play Ander Herrera and Juan Mata in front of one holding midfielder and attack. There is no point them winning this game 1-0, it is more important to boost the confidence of the forward players – they have to make a statement.

Colchester v Tottenham

Colchester are in a bad position in League One but their performances under new manager Kevin Keen have merited a higher points total. The team’s lack of experience and nous at key moments in both boxes is costing them points. If Tottenham field a second string side, however, they have a chance, and there is a possibility that Mauricio Pochettino will do that. His troops are already in the Europa League and while they have their best chance since 2012 of getting into the Premier League’s top four, the former Southampton boss will not prioritize the early rounds of the FA Cup. This match could serve as a test of the depth Spurs have in their squad – they should be able to win, even with a second string side.

West Brom v Peterborough

West Brom manager Tony Pulis rarely embraces cup competitions. Apart from when his Stoke City side reached the FA Cup final in 2010, teams he has managed have tended to go out in the early stages. If Peterborough were playing this match a month earlier, many would fancy them to win. However, they have had a bit of a dip in form lately and the sale of key striker Conor Washington to QPR will not help them, with some fans frustrated by Tuesday’s display against Burton Albion.

Bolton v Leeds

Bolton need a cup run. The club are facing serious financial troubles and a home game, against a club with the fanbase Leeds have, could boost their revenue. The West Yorkshire visitors beat Bristol City 1-0 last time out but they were fortunate to do so. After a poor first half, Steve Evans’ side got their winner through Souleymane Doukara, but had to withstand late pressure which saw their opponents miss a couple of guilt-edged chances. Bolton have only lost three home games in the Championship and this blog backs them to progress.

Reading v Walsall

Sean O’Driscoll has made a steady start to life at Walsall, though his new side dropped two points against Blackpool last weekend, conceding a late equalizer. The Saddlers have already beaten Championship opposition twice this season, edging Brighton in the League Cup before getting the better of old boss Dean Smith at Brentford. Reading beat Huddersfield 5-2 in the previous round and the Royals have an impressive recent history in the FA Cup. They reached the semi-finals last year, losing respectfully to Arsenal, and had a couple of good runs in Brian McDermott’s first spell at the Madjeski. Reading are a touch inconsistent but if their Dr Jekyll team turns up, rather than their Mr Hyde team, they will do the job here.

Arsenal v Burnley

Burnley beat promotion rivals Derby 4-1 on Monday night. While they were a touch fortunate to win that match, there is a sense with this Clarets team that they do not have to be at their best for 90 minutes to win a match. Sean Dyche’s side have always been hard to beat but now they have infused a goalscoring devilment that could serve them well in the Championship promotion race. Arsenal lost 1-0 to Chelsea on Saturday but they could have at least drawn that game, had they been more clinical. Home win.

Shrewsbury v Sheff Wed

Shrewsbury came from behind to score a last minute winner at league leaders Burton on Saturday. That kind of result was important for the club, and for manager Micky Mellon, who many fans had begun to question. Sheffield Wednesday performed well in the League Cup earlier in the season, beating Premier League opposition in Newcastle and Arsenal. For cup ties it is always important to have attacking depth in your squad and the Yorkshire side have that in abundance. Shrewsbury have knocked out Cardiff City en route to this tie, but their journey might end here.

Aston Villa v Man City

The FA Cup could be Aston Villa’s last chance to save their season. They are cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League and have a negligible chance of staying up, so a cup run might help the players find some confidence ahead of next season in the Championship. Manchester City already have a realistic chance of winning at least two other trophies this season so an FA Cup triumph is likely to be low on Manuel Pellegrini’s agenda. Last year’s finalists have a good recent record against the Citizens and if they defend as well as they did in the league fixture this season, they might force a replay.

Nottm Forest v Watford

Nottingham Forest are on an impressive run of form and beat Championship promotion chasers Middlesbrough last weekend. Dougie Freedman has made the Tricky Trees a solid side, centre-back Matt Mills being their stand-out performer. Watford’s rearguard is similarly resolute. The Hornets got a deserved victory over Newcastle last weekend, in a game which saw Odion Ighalo rediscover his goalscoring touch. This will not be an easy game for the Hertfordshire visitors and they might have to do the job back at Vicarage Road.

Bury v Hull

The last time Steve Bruce and David Flitcroft locked horns was in April 2013. Bruce’s Hull just needed a win at Oakwell to secure promotion, but Flitcroft’s Barnsley side stole the show, getting a 2-0 win which played a big part in their survival that year. Flitcroft has since moved to Bury and guided the Shakers to League Two promotion, they now look to consolidate in League One. The Manchester outfit have had a memorable route to the Fourth Round, beating Wigan 4-0 and knocking out rivals Rochdale in previous rounds. Championship title winners have not gone beyond the Fourth Round of the FA Cup since West Brom reached the semi-finals in 2008, some going out to lower league opposition. Hull have their eyes on the main prize and will suffer an early exit to Bury, who have not conceded a goal in 348 minutes of football.

Crystal Palace v Stoke

Both of these teams are having successful seasons in the Premier League. What they have in common is that they have benefited from the defensive foundations that Tony Pulis put in place, and have added pace and quality. Palace are not in the best of form right now but they were unlucky to lose to Tottenham last week, as Wilfried Zaha tore the opposition back-line apart. Emmanuel Adebayor is an enigmatic forward but he is the man to take their chances and Pardew can get the best out of him. Stoke perform better against the stronger teams. They have only lost two games out of a possible seven against the current top five and have already beaten both Manchester clubs. Palace’s last win this season came away to Stoke just before Christmas, and they might return to winning ways against them too.

Oxford v Blackburn

Oxford manager Michael Appleton is facing two of his former clubs in the space of a week, his side having won 1-0 at Portsmouth last Saturday. Blackburn came from behind to draw at Charlton last time out but they are not in the best of form at the moment. The Lancashire side are struggling for goals and only managed to scrape past Newport in the previous round. There is a fine line as to whether Paul Lambert’s defensive tactics have made Rovers organized, or whether he is taking the confidence out of his players. Oxford have beaten higher league opposition three times this season in three different competitions and this could be a very special season for the U’s.

Portsmouth v Bournemouth

Bournemouth and Portsmouth have a rivalry that goes back generations but it seems unlikely that either side will respect the emotional importance of the fixture. Eddie Howe changed his entire team for the Third Round tie with Birmingham and he may do the same in preparation for League Two opposition. The likes of Jack Cargill and Marc Pugh impressed at St Andrews and might relish another opportunity to prove their worth. Portsmouth boss Paul Cook has said that promotion is his team’s sole priority this season and the Liverpudlian made a number of changes for the League Cup fixtures. This could be a derby game that no-one wants to win.

Liverpool v West Ham

West Ham have already beaten Liverpool twice this season. Given that Reds manager Jurgen Klopp fielded a team of kids for the Third Round clashes with Exeter, they will be hopeful of a treble. The Hammers have key men such as Dimitri Payet back fit and Slaven Bilic has said that winning the FA Cup would mean more to him than finishing in the top four. Liverpool play an energy-sapping high pressing game and with the north-west outfit already in the League Cup final, chasing another trophy with too much drive could do more harm than good.

Carlisle v Everton

Carlisle United’s ticketing staff have had a nightmare this week, with demand high for the club’s cup tie with Everton. Drawing both Merseyside clubs in the same season is fantastic for the club and should benefit their finances hugely. Nine days out of ten, the Cumbrians would have beaten York last week but their finishing was not good enough. Everton will have played a League Cup semi-final second leg against Man City on Wednesday night, and fatigue could play a part. Still, there is quality in this Toffees team and they should show enough of it to progress.

MK Dons v Chelsea

Chelsea have a great chance of winning the FA Cup. Arsenal and Man City are in a title race, Manchester United do not score enough, Tottenham are in the Europa League, Liverpool are in the League Cup final and of course Leicester are out. Chelsea are not going to win either of the major trophies they targeted at the beginning of the season, so the FA Cup is their last chance to salvage their season. MK Dons lost 3-1 at Bolton on Saturday and, this season at least, they do not have the quality required to compete with a Premier League team, evidenced by their 6-0 loss to Southampton in the League Cup.