This year’s FA Cup has already thrown up more surprises than any in recent memory. The two favourites and current Premier League top two, Chelsea and Manchester City were dumped out of the competition at home to lower league opposition in the third round.
The elimination of the favourites brought a lot of excitement to fans around England and has certainly improved the chances of those top four challengers who are already out of the Premier League title running, and has also seen an uptick in demand for FA Cup tickets as fans are now expecting to see more upsets.
With West Ham being fourth favourites, Stoke fifth and West Brom sixth, most people have it down to one of three teams to lift this season’s trophy.
The narrow favourites with the bookmakers, Manchester United have lost only one of their last 18 games in all competitions under Louis van Gaal – defeated by his fellow countryman, Ronald Koeman.
Van Gaal is still yet to convince a number of critics of his style; regularly changing his tactics and seemingly unsure of who is favourite XI is. Dropping Wayne Rooney into central midfield has been widely criticised. However, the results are coming in.
United travel to League One opponents Preston North End this weekend for a place in the quarter-finals. They have already eliminated League One and Two opposition in the first two rounds, without conceding a goal.
The Dutch manager has selected strong sides for all three matches of this competition so far, and having beat both Arsenal (2-1 away) and Liverpool (3-0 home) in their first meetings in the Premier League this season, you can see why they’re favourites to lift the trophy they haven’t won since 2004.
The defending FA Cup holders are second favourites and most bookmakers barely have a difference between them and Manchester United as the favourites.
Arsène Wenger’s side have made fine work in reaching the final 16 – beating Hull City 2-0 in the third round and Brighton and Hove Albion 3-2 in the fourth. They welcome Championship leaders Middlesbrough this weekend.
Unlike Manchester United, Arsenal do have the UEFA Champions League on their hands and are also battling it out to finish in the top four in the Premier League, meaning virtually every game is an important one between now and May. Where will Wenger get a chance to rest some of his key players? And more importantly, in which competition does he do so?
Brendan Rodgers’ side have seen off both AFC Wimbledon and Bolton Wanderers to set up a trip to Crystal Palace in the fifth round.
The Eagles have won five of their seven matches under Alan Pardew and have a good record in recent seasons versus the Reds which should make it a tricky prospect for Brendan Rodgers’ in-form side this weekend.
With Daniel Sturridge back from injury, Philippe Coutinho in good form, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling both good players, Liverpool have a lot of attacking ability to be able to win this competition as well a defence that is playing much better in the 3-4-3 system than they were to start the season.
Liverpool are also in the Europa League and are the lowest-ranked side of these three in the Premier League – meaning they’ll need to win more games than either or both United and Arsenal if they want to play Champions League football next season. What will Rodgers prioritise?
Who do you think will win this season’s FA Cup?