Who will win the FA Cup?

Will Mauricio Pochettino win his first trophy as a manager? Will Manchester United secure their second FA Cup win in three years? Will Antonio Conte leave Chelsea on a high or will Southampton end their 42-year wait for glory? All of these questions will be answered in the next two months and as the competition hots up, we assess the four semi-finallists.

Tottenham Hotspur

Why they will win it:

Since September, Spurs have taken more Premier League points than any side left in the competition. When Mauricio Pochettino’s men last met Manchester United, their semi-final opponents, Christian Eriksen netted inside 11 seconds in a controlled 2-0 victory. The Dane always poses a creative threat while Dele Alli is coming into form; at the other end, Davinson Sanchez’s centre-back pairing with Jan Vertonghen is improving by the week.

Why they won’t:

In a combined 13 FA and League Cup games against Premier League opposition under Pochettino’s watch, Spurs have won four and lost seven. There are suggestions that the Argentine sometimes disregards domestic cup competitions, instead favouring the highest possible finish in the Premier League. Will his side approach this crucial stage with the right mentality?

Manchester United

Why they will win it:

Jose Mourinho. Since being appointed Porto manager in 2002, he has only gone two full seasons without winning a trophy. The Portuguese boss views domestic cup competitions as a great opportunity to give his squad a taste of glory, enhancing the thirst for future success. Romelu Lukaku is the top scorer remaining in the FA Cup with five goals to his name while David De Gea will be an asset between the sticks.

Why they won’t:

Mourinho’s allegiance to 4-2-3-1 – and aging auxiliary full-backs in Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young – can limit United going forward. Expensive buys Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba have been blamed for an underwhelming return of 39 goals in their last 24 Premier League games, but both have suffered from a lack of pace and movement around them. So determined are holding midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay to stand their ground, opposing rear-guards can focus solely on nullifying the big names.

Southampton

Why they will win it:

Southampton achieved one of the greatest final upsets in FA Cup history in 1976. Lawrie McMenemy’s sixth-placed second-division side defeated Manchester United, who had finished third in the top flight; this year’s final could realistically feature the same two sides. The south-coast club might have lost a final with United last year, but all 11 players who competed superbly in the narrow League Cup defeat remain at the club; they are more than capable of performing on the big stage.

Why they won’t:

The Saints have won seven of their 33 encounters with Premier League opposition this term. One of those victories came against 10-man West Ham, one against a then point-less Palace, one against David Unsworth’s Everton, one against injury-hit Watford and three against cellar-dwellers West Brom. Quite frankly, if Southampton lost 3-0 at both Newcastle and West Ham during March, what hope do they have of beating Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United to a major trophy?

Chelsea

Why they will win it:

Chelsea have won this competition in six of the last 21 seasons – under six different managers. A first and final FA Cup victory of Antonio Conte’s regime would give the Italian – who deserves great credit for re-energizing the club in 2016-17 – a fitting finale before he inevitably leaves this summer. Conte’s men lost the last final 2-1 to rivals Arsenal – if they reach the same stage this term, FA Cup Final tickets will be in high demand – perhaps memories of the previous Wembley defeat will drive the Blues on.

Why they won’t:

Chelsea have regressed in every possible way this season. From unambitious recruitment, to Conte’s surprisingly forlorn touchline demeanour, from Alvaro Morata’s poor form to overly defensive wing-backs trying in vain to protect an at times rudderless rear-guard.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

The winners of the semi-final between Man United and Tottenham might well be the ones to lift the trophy – and we’re backing Mou’s men to have the edge.