For many years, the tradition of the FA Cup has been marred somewhat by weak lineups representing top Premiership clubs.
Managers do their level best not to rank any competition above another when speaking to the media. But a simple glance at the names taking the pitch for a typical 3rd or 4th-Round fixture tells you all you need to know. Jürgen Klopp has all but projected a vibe of relief whenever Liverpool gets eliminated.
Supporters are treated to the real thing by the time the FA Cup semifinals and finals roll around. There’s less reason for a coach to play it safe with a lineup when the team is 90 to 180-or-so minutes away from winning the event.
Recent events may have accelerated the usual timetable. This weekend, we ought to be prepared for Premier League clubs to go absolutely all-out to advance in the FA Cup, even though there are still 8 quarterfinalists remaining in the competition.
The surprise 3-month break leading to June is only part of the mix. The Premiership has restarted with a 1st-place team (Liverpool) assured a mathematical clinch within a few matches. Lifting the Football Association hardware is an attainable goal for squads like Manchester City and Chelsea, even if they wouldn’t get to beat Liverpool to achieve it.
Every club remaining in the 2019-20 FA Cup has reason to go hard with its starting 11. Manchester United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær is not as strong a tactician as his predecessor, the polarizing José Mourinho, but he’s done a nice job of steering MUFC through the FA Cup bracket, and has no reason to hold anyone off the pitch with United’s lineup rested and recharged along with everyone else in the game. Leicester City is still hungry for a chance to prove it belongs with aristocrats as a top-tier EPL club.
Sheffield United’s quality goalkeeping and iron backline play appear to make Blades as dangerous of a Q-Final opponent as anyone left standing – even though the team has looked crap in restart matches.
Even though Norwich City is a steep underdog vs United in this weekend’s opening FA Cup quarterfinal fixture, there is precedent for Canaries to advance despite the team’s status as a candidate for relegation in 2020. Watford went all the way to a title-match appearance vs Man City last season despite placing 11th in the Premier League, and Brighton – a 17th-place club which barely survived – came a lot closer to beating City in the semis.
MyBookie’s betting markets offer Over/Under lines at below (3) for 3 of the 4 upcoming Q-Finals. Handicappers could be expecting cautious tactics without live crowds of supporters to get annoyed and whistle at the teams.
Here’s a hunch that we could see fireworks instead – at least in 2 of the 4 quarterfinals.
Norwich City vs Manchester United
Canaries are playing stubborn soccer under Daniel Farke, stringing 4-across-the-back and waiting for counters to present themselves. Farke is also juggling his talents across the front lines and midfield, hoping to confuse an opponent and produce a worthwhile attack without sacrificing goals-against.
For instance, in yesterday’s 0-1 loss to Everton at Carrow Road, the skipper changed-out his entire attacking midfield behind striker Josip Drmić, then finally inserted Teemu Pukki in the 27th minute. Norwich City produced 46% ball possession, not a bad number for a last-place Premiership side…but lost the match to a clean sheet anyway.
Farke may believe that his club’s best chance to advance through this Saturday’s quarterfinal vs visiting Man United is to somehow hold Red Devils to an 0-0 draw for a long time, maybe for both halves entirely. Everton was baffled enough by Canaries counterattacks that Toffeemen took 13 fouls against Norwich.
Manchester United’s superior speed and talent in the midfield and backline should help Ole’s lineup avoid suffering the same fate, and keep set pieces to a minimum for the hosts.
I’m looking for United to out-patience the patient. It won’t necessarily end in a 2+ goal win, but a (-1) ATS pick on Red Devils is still safe because it almost certainly won’t lose.
Pick: Man United (-1)
Sheffield United vs Arsenal FC
MyBookie is just a quirky sportsbook sometimes. Premiership clubs which are hosting matches are supposed to go on top of the X vs Y ledger, opposite of the American gridiron tradition of putting the home team on bottom. So, of course, MyBookie (often) puts host Premier League teams on the bottom. Sheffield vs Arsenal is the 1st of 3 FA Cup contests on Sunday, so – of course – MyBookie has placed those markets at the bottom of its tournament-betting section while other later-to-come matches are on top.
“Over” bettors should think about Sheffield vs Arsenal tops among all Q-Finals. Something is obviously wrong with Blades following the long COVID-19 break. Star keeper Dave Henderson has allowed 6 goals in 2 matches. An 0-3 loss to Magpies could be blamed on Newcastle’s 11-on-10 advantage in the 2nd half. But the same score occurred in a losing effort against Man United on Wednesday, as Sheffield gave up a hat trick to opposing French striker Anthony Martial despite ongoing complaints that Martial isn’t a natural at the position. Blades have mustered 2 on-target shots in the 2 losses.
Arsenal hasn’t looked bad at all, save for a lousy 20:00 against Seagulls last weekend.
Pick: Arsenal (+144)
Leicester City vs Chelsea FC
An Over/Under line of (2.5) is simply too low for this match, a reason why MyBookie’s payoff odds are around (-125) for the Over.
The handicap doesn’t really need to go further because there’s no point trying to figure out who will win. That’s a toss-up. No moneyline markets carry value for such an even match-up/unpredictable W/L result.
What we do know is that Leicester and Brighton’s mutual clean sheet this week was a product of Seagulls (and Foxes) playing conservatively in a 4-2-2-2 formation. 3 total shots were taken by the 2 clubs.
Leicester can’t win the Premier League and is unlikely to fall out of contention for UEFA honors due to a single draw. There wasn’t reason to attack with forward numbers against Brighton, but there will be on Sunday…for both sides.
Leicester scored 5 goals in its previous 2 matches, and Chelsea’s attack looks red hot at the moment.
Pick: Over (2.5)
Newcastle vs Manchester City
Update: Manchester City looked flat and listless against Blues of Chelsea Football Club on Thursday, losing 1-2 with Fernandinho taking a costly red card with hand-ball. The 2 biggest media takeaways are that A) Liverpool clinches the Premiership title sooner than expected, and B) Sky Blues had a lousy 90+ minutes for the most part.
However, the City loss might also jerk the odds on Sunday’s fixture in a favorable direction. With exception of the Brazilian midfielder’s 1-game suspension (which will be honored by the Football Association as usual) the result at Stamford Bridge has absolutely no bearing on whether Manchester City will go ahead and beat Magpies, but we don’t always expect the betting public to think that way.
Sure enough, Man City’s moneyline has tightened to (-512) from a former (-588) at MyBookie. The payoff on Over (3.5) is now a healthy (-114) despite Fernandinho’s contribution to the team’s attack amounting to a single goal in nearly 30 EPL matches.
In fact, City’s manager Pep Guardiola freely admitted that the club’s phoned-in 2nd half at Chelsea was due to cautious lineup and tactical decisions designed to rest the squad for Sunday’s quarterfinal.
Premiership coaches are now taking it easy in league matches to prepare for the “more important” FA Cup. How’s that for a world turned upside down? But it has to touch a smile for old-time punters who love the tournament atmosphere.
1-to-5 is still a paltry payoff, and I’m not sure if City is a lock to win by 3+ goals and beat a (-2) spread. However, the Over is a solid choice with Magpies likely forced to open up by the 50:00 mark, inviting a wild 3-2 result or an explosion of visitor’s goals.
Pick: Over (3.5)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.