A lot of people think little of the FA Cup these days. Yes, perhaps the days are gone when it was the biggest cup competition in the world, when teams would place it level with winning the league title or the European Cup, but it still has its merits.
The FA Cup is still probably the biggest domestic cup competition out of the top European leagues, and it does offer the chance of European football.
The romance of the cup has also waned in recent years, despite the bigger teams taking it less seriously. However, I can guarantee every team left in the FA Cup want to win it more than anything. But who will?
Lets assume (maybe prematurely) that Chelsea beat Birmingham and Spurs beat Stevenage, that would leave Liverpool, Everton, Spurs, Chelsea, Stoke, Leicester, Bolton and Sunderland all just two wins from the final – where anything can happen.
The favourites would have to be Spurs. Despite their draw at Stevenage a couple of weeks ago, I full expect them to beat the League One club at White Hart Lane. They are also highest placed in the league of all the remaining teams and have just about been playing the best football this season. If/When they beat Stevenage, they have a home tie against struggling Bolton, meaning you would fully expect them to be in the semi-finals, and on that big Wembley pitch they would fancy their chances against anyone.
Chelsea are in a similar situation. They are not playing very well at all, and have a new manager in place for the remainder of the season, but despite all that you would expect a team with their level of talent to be able to win two home games against Championship sides. Do that and they too are at Wembley for the semi-finals. Chelsea’s players have been there and done it at Wembley before and seeing them lift the FA Cup in May would not be a surprise.
After that come the two Merseyside clubs. Everton have a very tricky home tie against Sunderland to negotiate in the quarter-finals, but David Moyes’ side seem to have found their usual second-half-of-the-season form and the scent of a Wembley trip will probably ignite good performances from their key players. Liverpool as well, have a less than straight forward game against Stoke, albeit at Anfield, where you would expect them to win. Buoyed by their League Cup win, Liverpool are definitely among the favourites for England’s other domestic cup.
You wouldn’t put it past Stoke or Sunderland to sneak into the final though. The Black Cats are on a magnificent run since Martin O’Neill took over, and the other sides would want to avoid their lethal counter-attacking. It might be a bit much for Stoke to return to Wembley, a year after they were runners up to Man City, and I reckon even if they did beat Liverpool, they are definitely big outsiders for the trophy.
That leaves Leicester and Bolton (and Stevenage/Birmingham, should they cause upsets) who, quite possibly, could all be Championship sides next season. I don’t think Leicester or Birmingham will have enough to win at Stamford Bridge, and the same can be said of Bolton and Stevenage at White Hart Lane.
My bet is that Spurs or Liverpool will win this season’s FA Cup, with Everton being a dark horse.