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ESPN will be showing the clashes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Stoke City when it continues its coverage of this season’s FA Cup with three matches from the fifth round. For subscription details please click here.
ESPN Fan Films: Brighton’s FA Cup journey
The fifth round of the FA Cup takes place this weekend, with 16 teams vying for a place in the quarter-finals and the chance to be within a single victory of a date at Wembley.
With Manchester City and Manchester United out of the competition the path to cup success looks wide open – although Arsenal (after their Champions League debacle in mid-week) will perhaps be the first to note that the absence of both big guns does not necessarily make the remaining task any easier.
The Gunners have a chance to bounce back from that botched Italian job at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, while Liverpool and Chelsea have home ties against Championship opposition as they expect relatively straightforward progression. Having been in sketchy form in the league, however, an upset is surely far from an impossibility.
For even more talking points and predictions, allow ESPN to preview all the action below…
Betting Preview: Norwich fans to be in full voice
Chelsea v Birmingham – live on ESPN
Form: Chelsea have beaten Portsmouth (in a straightforward contest at Stamford Bridge) and QPR (in a more fraught encounter at Loftus Road) to get to this stage, while Birmingham usurped Premier League side Wolves at Molineux in the third round before routing Sheffield United.
Key battle: After admitting this week that he no longer knows how to score goals, can Curtis Davies ensure Fernando Torres does not rediscover the habit in this one?
Player to watch: Daniel Sturridge has been in the news this week as he reportedly considers his future at Stamford Bridge. Having first established himself at the club in this competition, it will be interesting to see how he performs in current conditions.
Talking point: Chelsea’s current plight seems eerily reminiscent of their struggles in 2009 – where Guus Hiddink came in to replace Luiz Felipe Scolari and guided the side to FA Cup victory before nearly taking them to the Champions League final despite already being way out of the league hunt. Andre Villas-Boas has already survived longer than Scolari – but can he inspire a similar revival to Hiddink?
Bet of the day: Chelsea should not have too many difficulties in this one, back them to win without conceding at evens with bet365.
Everton v Blackpool
Form: Everton are preparing for their third home tie of the competition, a pleasing slice of luck that has helped them to victories over Tamworth (2-0) and Fulham (2-1) so far in the competition. Blackpool have had to go the opposite route, as they are yet to win a game at Bloomfield Road – beating Fleetwood Town (5-1) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-0 in a replay) on their own patches to get to this stage.
Key battle: Blackpool manager Ian Holloway is excited about the future of young winger Matty Phillips, who could enjoy a learning experience – and prove something about his ability to step up to Premier League action – against the wily Phil Neville.
Player to watch: Nikica Jelavic used to score goals for fun in the Scottish Cup – can he make a similar transition in the English equivalent as he looks for his first goal for his new club?
Talking point: With few Premier League concerns – stalled somewhat in mid-table – and an injection of new blood in January, does a series of kind draws to date create the sense the Toffees are destined to reach Wembley in this competition?
Bet of the day: An own goal in this one is 10/1 with bet365
Can Arsenal repeat their last display against Sunderland?
Norwich v Leicester
Form: Norwich eviscerated Burnley and then edged past fellow Premier League side West Brom to reach this point, whereas Leicester needed a replay to finally deal with Nottingham Forest before doing away with Swindon Town inside the regulation 90 minutes.
Key battle: Neil Danns is a key part of Leicester’s midfield, but will need to be mindful of his defensive duties to prevent Andrew Surman bursting into attacking positions for the ever-attractive Canaries.
Player to watch: Grant Holt can’t stop scoring – can he propel this season’s surprise package towards a date at Wembley?
Talking point: Leicester have spent big in recent seasons in a bid to get to the Premier League, whereas Norwich have built steadily around an astute manager to reach that holy land in double-quick time. Proof money isn’t everything in football?
Bet of the day: Leicester haven’t been at their best in the Championship this season, but they give nothing up easily away from home. A draw is intriguing at 13/5 with bet365.
Millwall v Bolton
Form: The London club have scored nine goals to reach this point, Dagenham & Redbridge being hit for five and Championship leaders Southampton falling to a surprise 3-2 home defeat after an initial 1-1 draw. Bolton, in some contrast, needed a replay to finally get past Macclesfield – before edging Swansea City at the Reebok Stadium.
Key battle: Darius Henderson is a bullish striker with Premier League experience, David Wheater is an uncompromising defender with experience of Championship shenanigans. It should prove a healthy battle.
Player to watch: On-loan Arsenal midfielder Ryo Miyaichi may be given a chance to start by Owen Coyle – it will be interesting to see how the Japanese youngster copes with both the physical nature of the game and the intimidating atmosphere from the stands.
Talking point: Is this the most obvious giant-killing opportunity of the fifth round?
Bet of the day: The most probable shock of the last 16, a 2-0 win for the hosts is not something to be ignored at 12/1 with bet365
Sunderland v Arsenal
Form: A replay against local rivals Middlesbrough was needed for Sunderland to get to this stage, having beaten Peterborough away in the third round. Arsenal, meanwhile, have edged Leeds United (thanks to Thierry Henry’s champagne moment) and then come from behind against Aston Villa to get into the fifth round.
Key battle: James McLean has been a revelation for Sunderland since Martin O’Neill’s arrival (scoring in the recent meeting between the two teams), and with Arsenal playing a narrow midfield he should get the chance to attack the recently returned Bacary Sagna, who was hardly stellar against AC Milan in midweek.
Player to watch: Having been left out from the start of the disaster at the San Siro, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be given the nod and will be eager to end Arsene Wenger’s indecision about whether or not he is ready to start in the biggest games.
Talking point: Sunderland have been on fire since O’Neill’s arrival, but were halted by Arsenal in the league last week. Is that the end of the run, or merely a blip as they look for revenge at the Stadium of Light?
Bet of the day: No goals in the first half of this one is 2/1 with bet365
Crawley Town v Stoke City – live on ESPN
Form: Perhaps the most divisive giant-killers in history, Crawley have overcome Bristol City and Hull in order to book their latest shot at a Premier League scalp. After reaching the final last season, Tony Pulis’s side are only three wins away from a return performance after erasing Gillingham and Derby County from the competition.
Key battle: With Watford goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin signing on loan late this week, he will almost certainly go straight into the team to show his stuff against Stoke’s variety of strikers – all players Crawley manager Steve Evans has already paid tribute to.
Player to watch: Peter Crouch wants a return to the England squad – if he is to secure one he really needs to bag a few goals against this sort of opposition.
Talking point: Stoke – as perhaps evidenced by Thursday’s defeat to Valencia – have actually been rather poor at the Britannia Stadium this season. Is an away trip as much a boost for them as their opponents?
Bet of the day: Crawley to score the last goal in this one is 6/4 with bet365.
Dirk Kuyt helped Liverpool get to this stage
Stevenage v Tottenham
Form: Stevenage have beaten Reading (away) and Notts County (home) to bring another Premier League club to Broadhall Way, after beating Newcastle United there in memorable circumstances last season. Tottenham will face lower league opposition for a third successive time – Cheltenham and Watford on their current list of victims.
Key battle: Having started his career at Spurs but failing to make it into the first-team on a regular basis, journeyman goalkeeper Chris Day will hope to put on a spectacular show to keep his boyhood club’s formidable array of attacking talent at bay.
Player to watch: Ryan Nelsen could end up making his first start for Tottenham since his surprising January move. With injury concerns dogging him during his final months at Blackburn, this game could show whether he will be ready to step in at any notice for Harry Redknapp – or will just be another Ledley King-esque fitness liability.
Talking point: This game has all the hallmarks of an upset – Stevenage are at home, and have giant-killing pedigree – yet Spurs seem in such good form (thrashing Newcastle 5-0 in their last outing) that it seems hugely improbable. Is over-confidence the only potential problem for Redknapp’s men?
Bet of the day: A 3-0 away win for the Premier League side looks attractive at 7/1 with bet365
if you can ignore the temptation of the giant-killing.
Liverpool v Brighton & Hove Albion – live on ESPN
Form: This is a rematch of a Carling Cup tie earlier in the season – won comfortably by the Reds, who are set to play in the final of that competition against another Championship club, Cardiff City, later this month. The home side have beaten Oldham Athletic and Manchester United to get to this stage, while Brighton successfully negotiated Wrexham (after a replay) and Newcastle United.
Key battle: Luis Suarez has shown few ill-effects from his eight-game layoff, scoring in last weekend’s league defeat against Manchester United. He will look to add to that tally against Brighton, who will be hoping the uncompromising Adam El-Abd can halt the Uruguayan.
Player to watch: Dirk Kuyt scored Liverpool’s winner (in the last ten minutes) when these two sides met in the Carling Cup, and did the same against Manchester United in the previous round of the FA Cup. He’s evidently got a taste for cup goals, even if the Dutchman will want to bounce back after a poor display at Old Trafford last week.
Talking point: Who will win more trophies this season – Manchester United or Liverpool?
Bet of the day: Liverpool have struggled to score at home all season, while Brighton will be keen to rise to the occasion. A narrow one-goal victory for the home side looks decent value at 6/1 with bet365.