The magic of the FA Cup returns this weekend, with some intriguing ties to whet the appetite. From a repeat of a classic cup final to a newly installed manager hoping to avoid a giant-killing, here’s our look at the eight teams left slugging it out at this stage of the competition…
Swansea City v Tottenham, Sat 17 March, 12:15
Mauricio Pochettino has rightly won plaudits for transforming a youthful Spurs side into regular Top Four contenders, but has one massive blot on his copybook – his failure to land a single trophy during his four year tenure with the North London club. After the disappointment of exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round, the FA Cup now represents Pochettino’s only realistic hope of getting that particular monkey off his back.
However, Spurs will have to be at their best to see off a Swansea side experiencing a new lease of life under Carlos Carvalhal. The charismatic Portuguese may have more pressing matters to attend to in terms of steering the Swans away from relegation trouble, but will scent blood here given Spurs will be without their captain and talisman Harry Kane. He’ll also be desperate to taste glory at Wembley after the agony of losing the Championship Play-Off final with Sheffield Wednesday in 2016.
Man Utd v Brighton, Sat 17 March, 19:45
Despite the disappointment of defeat to Sevilla in midweek, the Reds will be confident of bouncing back against a Brighton side who often show little ambition on the road despite a respectable first season back in the top flight.
The Seagulls demonstrated plenty of spirit on their first trip to Old Trafford in 25 years back in November in a tight 1-0 defeat, but will need to be more aggressive in this winner-takes-all clash if they are going to secure their place in the semi-finals. They may suffer a backlash as the Red Devils look to land a second FA Cup in three seasons.
Wigan Athletic v Southampton, Sun 18 March, 13:30
Will Grigg’s on fire… and Southampton’s defence may well be terrified given their limp performance in the 3-0 defeat to Newcastle, a result that sealed Mauricio Pellegrino’s fate after a run of one win in 17 games. Mark Hughes is the brave soul who has taken on the unenviable task of maintaining Southampton’s Premier League status, and the Welshman may secretly be pleased to have the distraction of a cup tie to contend with in his first match.
The home side are the smallest club left of the eight remaining, but have real pedigree in this competition as the 2013 FA Cup winners. Paul Cook’s side also produced the biggest scalp of the tournament in knocking out Manchester City in the last round – in the process showing many Premier League sides a lesson on how to contain a Pep Guardiola side. Can the Latics repeat their remarkable run from five years ago?
Leicester City v Chelsea, Sun 18 March, 16:30
On paper, this looks to be the most evenly-matched of the four Quarter Finals, and much will depend on how Antonio Conte’s charges respond following the disappointment of a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona. The fiery Italian has a look of a man reaching his last stand – with the FA Cup the one thing keeping him from an acrimonious divorce from the club he guided to Premier League glory in 2017.
The Foxes have two prime motivations in reaching Wembley. As a club, lifting the FA Cup in May would mark the completion of a clean sweep of domestic titles following their shock Premier League win two years ago, and for their manager Claude Puel, it would be a chance to put a bittersweet experience at Southampton firmly to rest. The Frenchman successfully guided the Saints to eighth place and a League Cup Final appearance at Wembley last year before his dismissal at the end of the campaign.
All image sources from PA Images.