After a mammoth 10 days of Premier League football, league action takes something of a backseat this weekend as eight top-flight sides turn their attention to booking a place at Wembley for this season’s FA Cup semi-finals.
Here’s our look at the four all-top tier ties this weekend, plus our predictions for two Premier League games involving teams scrapping it out at the wrong end of the table.
FA Cup Quarter Finals
Saturday 27th June
NORWICH CITY VS MAN UTD, 17:30
The Canaries will be making their first appearance at this stage of the FA Cup in 28 years, not that Daniel Farke will be in the mood for celebrating that milestone. Norwich’s survival dreams now lie in tatters after two dispiriting defeats since the restart, and that gap could widen with Aston Villa and Watford both in league action.
In truth, this tie has now become a free hit for the German to reclaim some pride from a difficult season with an extended stay in the top flight now an increasingly remote prospect.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to finally be getting a tune out of his Utd squad but he’ll ultimately be judged on his ability to compete for major honours, and this is a major test of his elite managerial capabilities.
A sustained FA Cup run looks to be the easiest route for the Norwegian to claim some early silverware as Utd manager, but the Canaries have shown they can put on a show at times against superior opposition, picking up surprise wins against Man City, Everton and Leicester in the league. That said, Norwich’s defence simply looks too fragile at the moment to prevent in-form Utd from pouncing.
Prediction: Norwich City 0-2 Man Utd
Sunday 28th June
SHEFFIELD UTD VS ARSENAL, 13:00
For all the claims it’s lost some of its old magic, the FA Cup does have a funny habit of throwing up an interesting-looking fixture at just the right moment. Both managers will be desperate for their two sides to put on improved displays after starting sluggishly since teams returned to action in mid-June.
A showpiece Wembley appearance for the Blades would cap off a fine season for Chris Wilder regardless of where his side now finish in the league. His opposite number Mikel Arteta will be looking to build on their win away at Southampton and set up a grandstand finish to this season before switching focus to a big rebuild job in the summer.
The absence of a buoyant Bramall Lane home crowd may just tip this tie in the Gunners’ favour if Arteta can iron out some of his side’s most obvious flaws in time for this one against a Utd side strangely off-the-pace since the restart. Arsenal being Arsenal, that’s not a given, but this fixture might be the moment the Gunners really start fighting back against the doubters.
Verdict: Sheff Utd 0-1 Arsenal
LEICESTER CITY VS CHELSEA, 16:00
Two of the current Premier League top four meet at the King Power Stadium, with Brendan Rodgers’ side particularly in need of a shot in the arm. Their iron grip on a top four place suddenly looks rusty with Wolves and Man Utd circling.
This match is possibly just the distraction they need to rediscover some of the fluent attacking play that defined their first half of the season, although Chelsea now look a far tougher proposition with Frank Lampard’s squad bolstered by the return of several key players from injury. Subs could make all the difference with players likely to be running on empty after the hectic restart.
The Blues’ superior squad depth could just hand them an edge if the Foxes start as slowly as they did against lowly Brighton, although it’ll be interesting to see if they are jaded or fired up following the impressive midweek win against Man City.
Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 Chelsea
NEWCASTLE UTD VS MAN CITY, 18:30
An intriguing weekend of FA Cup football rounds off at St James’ Park where Steve Bruce will be out to prove a point to any possible future owners that he’s the man to move Newcastle to the next level over the long term.
With Premier League safety all but sewn up, there are no excuses for Bruce not to have a proper tilt at the FA Cup. A semi-final appearance would be an impressive feat for the under-fire Magpies boss given their woeful cup record in recent years.
However, further progress looks a hard ask with Man City out to complete a rare domestic cup double. City will be looking to draw a line under a week where they surrendered their title to Liverpool with a bold statement here.
Prediction: Newcastle 0-2 Man City
Premier League Predictions – 27th and 28th June
Saturday 27th June
ASTON VILLA VS WOLVES, 12:30
It could have been much worse for Villa, but a late draw against a mid-table side with little to play for in midweek might go down as an opportunity missed ahead of a daunting run against teams in the current top six.
With several of their relegation rivals out of action, a win for Dean Smith’s side this weekend would be huge psychologically, lifting them out the relegation zone for the short term at least. They’ll need to proceed with caution against a Wolves side that can cut teams to pieces in an instant. An abundance of counter-attacking options mean Nuno’s side are one of a handful in this division perfectly suited to playing in energy-sapping June conditions.
Villa’s defence will be put under strain, so attack may be their best form of defence if Smith can get the Grealish-McGinn axis working in tandem as smoothly as he did during the first few months of the campaign.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-2 Wolves
Sunday 27th June
WATFORD VS SOUTHAMPTON, 16:30
The Hornets are another team at the bottom of the table that can steal a march on their fellow strugglers. The fixture computer has been kind this weekend as they play a Southampton side filling out time after pulling away from this season’s dogfight.
Nigel Pearson will be fully aware his side will have few better circumstances in which to bank three points and apply some serious heat on the current bottom three. Watford will need to get back on the front foot again after an underwhelming midweek defeat against Burnley.
Much will depend on Saints players’ state of mind here. With little to play for, will they rally if the home side can make the early running? Watford will need to capitalise on any signs of Saints easing off.
Prediction: Watford 1-0 Southampton