FA Cup: upsets unlikely as Premier League big guns roll on
Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool face different challenges this week, but will expect to progress
THE FA Cup returns this weekend, with a curious array of fixtures that features only one all Premier League clash and few, if any, matches that could be called derbies.
However, it is a cup weekend, and that means the prospect of upsets and the chance for smaller sides to grab their moment in the limelight.
The top four teams in the country are all still in the competition and it will be something of a surprise if that is not still the case on Sunday evening.
First off the rank are Premier League leaders Arsenal, who face Coventry tonight at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger is sure to name an "experimental" side for the visit of the League One side, who have lost only one of their last 11 games, but it will be a huge shock if the Sky Blues, who famously won the trophy in 1987, win this one.
Liverpool head south to face Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime. The Cherries are another side with giant-killing credentials thanks to their win over Manchester United 30 years ago this month. The Championship strugglers will do well to mark the anniversary with a repeat performance against Brendan Rodgers team.
Spare a thought for Watford, level on points with Bournemouth in the Championship, but facing a much more daunting challenge in the FA Cup. The Hornets must face Manchester City at the Etihad, where the Citizens' record this season reads: P17, W16, goals scored 68, at an average of four a game.
Manuel Pellegrini will probably give the likes of Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko the afternoon off, but that could be the only invitation that Stevan Jovetic, a £22m striker who cannot get a game at the moment, needs to prove a point or two. It could be a long afternoon for new Watford coach Giuseppe Sannino, who took over from Gianfanco Zola last month.
Chelsea provide the entertainment on Sunday when they welcome Stoke to Stamford Bridge. On paper they have a tougher task than their rivals, but Jose Mourinho will be confident of overcoming struggling Stoke. Much depends on how he and Mark Hughes, a former Chelsea player, approach the match. If Hughes puts his best side out and Chelsea rest their stars then it could be tight, but whatever side the managers pick the Blues will remain favourites.
Elsewhere, other games that catch the eye include tonight's meeting between Nottingham Forest and Preston, and Southend against Hull on Saturday. Championship high-flyers Forest humbled West Ham in the last round and will expect to beat League One Preston. Manager Billy Davies will also be keen to get one over on his former club. The same goes for Southend boss Phil Brown, who made his name guiding Hull into the top flight. His side will do well to get a result against the Tigers, but it could be a fiery encounter between the two seaside teams.
Rochdale, the giant-killing Lancastrians from League Two, who knocked out Leeds in the last round, are up against Sheffield Wednesday, another Yorkshire side from the Championship. This is the closest thing to a proper local derby we have this weekend, and the League Two side will fancy their chances of another upset at Spotland.
The other Sheffield team, United, languishing near the foot of League One, entertain another struggling team in Fulham on Sunday. The Cottagers may be two divisions higher than their hosts, but that does not rule out the possibility of an upset. Another League One side, Stevenage, also have Premier League opposition in the form of Everton, who famously lost to Shrewsbury in 2003. A repeat is unlikely.
The holders, Wigan, face Crystal Palace, and their defence of the trophy may come to an end against Tony Pulis's Palace, who are showing distinct signs of recovery after a dismal start to the season.
Here are the weekend's other fixtures:
Birmingham v Swansea
Bolton v Cardiff
Huddersfield v Charlton
Port Vale v Brighton
Southampton v Yeovil
Sunderland v Kidderminster