The intelligent punter's Guide to the 2015 FA Cup
As 32 clubs reach the fourth round, who's worth a punt to go all the way to the final on 30 May?
Thirty-two teams are involved in the FA Cup fourth-round ties being played this weekend, starting with Cambridge United v Manchester United, televised live on BBC1 tonight.
Where does the value lie in the betting market?
The FA Cup is billed as the tournament where anything can happen. Sadly the oldest knock-out competition in the world is nowhere near as unpredictable as it used to be in the 'golden era' of Cup shocks in the 1970s.
This year's third round was largely devoid of surprises, with the top Premier League clubs all emerging unscathed.
Before placing a bet, it's essential to bear in mind three FA Cup stats:
Big Five dominance: Since 1995, five teams - Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City - have won the FA Cup on all but two occasions. The only years when one of the Big Five did not lift the trophy were 2008 (Portsmouth) and 2013 (Wigan). This reflects the ever-widening financial gap in domestic football: compare the past 20 years with the period 1966-79 when 13 different teams won the competition. The Big Five have all made it through to the fourth round where they face lower division opposition - so it looks likely that once again the winner will come from their ranks.
Outsider chances: In the period 1973-82, teams from the old second division won the competition three times while two second-tier teams were beaten finalists. But since 1980, no team from outside the top flight has won the FA Cup and since 1982 only two - Millwall in 2004 and Cardiff in 2008 - have made it to the final. That said, last year League One Sheffield United and Championship side Wigan made the semis - so don't rule out betting on non-Premier League teams to reach the later stages if not the final.
League position: The team at the top of the Premier League on third round weekend has won the competition five times in the last 11 years (including last year) while the team in second has won the competition five times in the past 21 seasons. So that's a good pointer to the chances of Chelsea and Manchester City - who were first and second on third round weekend.
Now let's take a closer look at some of the likelier contenders…
CHELSEA Best odds 9-2
They are team with the best recent record in the FA Cup - four wins in the last eight years. With a home tie in the fourth round against League One Bradford City it's not hard to understand why they're favourites for the competition – which makes 9-2 quite appealing. The only negative is that if they progress to the later stages of the Champions League, the fixtures will begin to pile up. That said, the Special One does have the squad to cope.
MANCHESTER CITY Best odds: 5-1
They've reached two of the last four finals and have a home tie against Championship opponents (Middlesbrough) in round four. Clearly one of the likeliest winners, but there's a concern that they're not playing as well as they were in the autumn and they could be vulnerable if they meet another member of the Big Five in a later round.
MANCHESTER UNITED Best odds: 11-2
The Red Devils are overdue an FA Cup win: their last was in 2004 and this is the longest they've gone without winning the trophy since the 1970s. They're clearly improving under Louis van Gaal - with only two defeats in their last 18 matches - and unlike the other members of the Big Five they have no European distractions. They should get past Cambridge tonight and the current odds make an each-way bet attractive.
ARSENAL Best odds: 15-2
Their previous FA Cup final appearances have tended to come in clusters - three finals in a row 1978-80, and three victories between 2002-5. Last year's success seems to have done wonders for their confidence and they're moving into top gear nicely, with a 2-0 win at Manchester City last weekend. They're too far off the pace to win the Premier League, while the Champions League is probably beyond them, meaning that this remains their best chance of silverware this season.
LIVERPOOL Best odds: 9-1
Like Manchester United, it's time for another Liverpool FA Cup win. There was a nine-year gap between their successes in 1992 and 2001 and it's now nine years since their last win in 2006. They won't lack motivation, with Steven Gerrard wanting to go out on a high, and although their fourth round tie with the improving Championship side Bolton could prove tougher than it appears on paper, they have to be on the shortlist.
TOTTENHAM Best odds: 14-1
Spurs had a great record in this competition in the period 1961-91 when they won it six times and were beaten finalists once, but they've not made the final for almost a quarter of a century. They're certainly playing well enough to go far in the competition - and their 5-3 win over Chelsea showed they don't have to fear anyone - but the worry is that their fixtures are piling up. They're still in the League Cup, they're involved in Europe, and they're also in the hunt for fourth place in the Premier League.
SOUTHAMPTON Best odds: 16-1
This season's surprise package have rallied excellently after a dip in form in early December and must be on the shortlist of possible winners of this competition, which they last won in 1976. But does their squad have the strength in depth to successfully challenge for a Champions League place and the FA Cup? The romantics will be hoping that manager Ronald Koeman can somehow pull it off.
WEST HAM Best odds: 20-1
'Big Sam' Allardyce has done a great job at Upton Park, transforming a team battling against relegation into one pushing for a top four place. The Hammers showed real battling qualities to see off Everton in an epic third round Cup replay, and while they've got a potentially tricky fourth round tie away to League One high-flyers Bristol City, it's not hard to see the 2006 finalists making the latter stages of the competition.
STOKE CITY Best odds: 33-1
They gave their supporters a few palpitations when they fell behind to non-league Wrexham at home in round three, but they rallied well to win 3-1 and they now face more lower league opposition in the shape of League One Rochdale. The case for an each-way bet on Stoke is that they've got nothing else to distract them: they're not going to make the Premier League top four and they're clear of the relegation dogfight so they can focus all their energies on a Cup run.
SWANSEA CITY Best odds: 40-1
The 2013 League Cup winners had a very good first half of the season in the Premier League, but their chances of winning the FA Cup for the first time have undoubtedly been hit by the sale of star striker Wilfried Bony to Manchester City. They've also got a tricky looking fourth round away tie to Blackburn to negotiate and while they can't be entirely dismissed - they are, after all, in the top nine in the Premier League - their recent dip in form is a worry.
SUNDERLAND Best odds: 50-1
Gus Poyet's Black Cats made it to the League Cup final and the FA Cup sixth round last year, showing their aptitude for Cup football. Although Premier League survival is their priority, they're better organised than most teams in the bottom half of the table and they could be set for another decent run in a Cup competition. First they have to beat Championship side Fulham in round four.
WEST BROM Best odds: 50-1
The impact of new manager Tony Pulis has already been seen: no goals conceded in his first three matches, which have resulted in two wins and a draw. Obviously Premier League survival is the priority but Pulis did well in the competition when he managed Stoke - taking them all the way to the final in 2011 - and his teams are always hard to break down. The 2008 semi-finalists could represent some each-way value, although they do have a tricky fourth round tie away to resurgent local rivals Birmingham City.
ASTON VILLA Best odds: 66-1
They're at home to lower division opponents in the fourth round, but you can't really fancy a team that has scored only 11 goals in 22 games to make it to the FA Cup final, let alone win it. In any case, manager Paul Lambert has shown in recent seasons that the competition is not a major priority and Bournemouth in the fourth round is a potential banana skin.
DERBY Best odds: 80-1
One of the best teams in the Championship, Steve McClaren's side have a home draw in the fourth round against League One Chesterfield. They impressed when going down 3-1 at home to Chelsea in the League Cup quarter-final when they were unlucky to have their centre-back sent off, but while they've got the quality to go deep in the competition, it's all of 69 years since the club last reached an FA Cup final.
CRYSTAL PALACE Best odds: 100-1
Three out of three for new manager Alan Pardew and while, given their current form, you couldn't write them off, they do face a tough fourth round tie away at Southampton. If they were to get past that, they could be lively outsiders: remember, Pardew did take West Ham to the final in 2006.
BOURNEMOUTH Best odds: 125-1
Riding high at the top of the Championship the Cherries will fancy their chances at goal-shy Premier League outfit Aston Villa in the fourth round. They score plenty of goals but their defensive weaknesses mean they're likely to be found out if drawn against more potent Premier League opponents - as they were by Liverpool in the League Cup quarter-final.
CARDIFF Best odds: 125-1
Becalmed in mid-table in the Championship, the Bluebirds, who were surprise finalists in 2008, have what looks like a winnable home tie in round four against fellow Championship side Reading. If the draw stays kind to them, they might be on course for another decent run.
LEICESTER CITY Best odds: 150-1
Nigel Pearson's side are gradually improving but they remain goal-shy and obviously Premier League survival is their priority. They've got a tough fourth round tie away at Tottenham and, all things considered, it's hard to see them making the final for the first time since 1969.
BLACKBURN ROVERS Best odds: 200-1
They reached the semis in 2005 and 2007 and the quarter-finals in 2013, having knocked out Arsenal 1-0 at the Emirates in round five. They pushed Manchester City close in the third round last year, and given their record in the competition they could be fancied to surprise Premier League side Swansea City at home in the fourth round.
SHEFFIELD UNITED Best odds: 250-1
The undoubted Cup kings from the lower divisions, Nigel Clough's League One giant-killers got to the semi-finals last year, when they lost 5-3 to Premier League Hull in a thriller. And they have also made it to this year's League Cup semi-finals. They posted a very impressive 3-0 away win at Premier League QPR in round three - the fifth top flight team they have beaten in Cup competitions in the last two seasons. They're away in round four to fellow League One promotion challengers Preston – whom they beat 2-1 at home earlier this month.
BOLTON WANDERERS Best odds: 500-1
The Trotters have lost only one match since October: new manager Neil Lennon has made them well-organised and hard to break down. They've got the profile of the sort of Championship team which has gone deep into this competition in the past: the downside is that they've got a fourth round tie against Liverpool at Anfield to negotiate. Still, that is fully reflected in the bookies' price.