ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's FA Cup sixth round action. Watch ESPN's FA Cup sixth round coverage with Tottenham Hotspur vs Bolton Wanderers on Saturday at 4.30pm and Chelsea vs Leicester City on Sunday at 2pm.
There may also be some Premier League action this weekend, but the FA Cup deserves to take centre stage.
The competition is still very open - we could be heading for a Merseyside final, an all London final, or it could be Leicester against Bolton. Looking at the quarterfinal line up, I’d be rather surprised if it was all settled this weekend, I think we could be looking at one if not two replays here.
For me, Everton against Sunderland looks like the tie of the round. David Moyes actually rested players for the Merseyside derby during the week on the basis that he would have them available and in peak condition for this one, so from their perspective it seems the cup is the centre point of the remainder of their season. I know David Moyes is desperate for another taste of a Wembley final and is attaching great importance to this game.
Sunderland will also see this as a game of great importance. They managed to beat Liverpool without tigerish midfielder Lee Cattermole and their most creative forward in Stephane Sessengon, but will miss them more playing away from home. This is a really intriguing match-up and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one goes to a replay.
Tottenham are the highest ranked team left in the competition but haven’t played particularly well against lower league opposition so far this season, and they can’t afford to take as many liberties against Bolton. Owen Coyle has been given a little bit of breathing space after a getting a bit lucky against QPR last weekend, meaning he can afford to concentrate more of his resources on this game. Bolton’s main objective is to stay in the Premier League, but they’ll look at Tottenham’s inconsistencies and believe they have half a chance of getting back to Wembley for a second straight season.
I think the Chelsea celebrations may have just about died down by the time they kick off against Leicester after their remarkable comeback against Napoli. Roberto Di Matteo has now won all of his three games in charge, but succumbed to a few casualties on Wednesday night – John Terry and David Luiz may both be missing, so I think it will be a substantially weakened team that takes to the pitch, not through any desire on Di Matteo’s part.Having seen Leicester - the Blues' FA Cup quarterfinal opponents - a few times this season, I’m just not sure what we’re going to get from them, they are frustratingly inconsistent. You look at the team sheet and there are some Premier League names on it and on their day I think they can give Chelsea a game, especially if they face a changed team. I will go for a Chelsea win in this one though, but if Leicester can hold them for an hour, things might get interesting and we might get into replay territory.
The fourth and final quarter final is a fourth meeting of the season of Liverpool and Stoke, and as always Stoke will be a thorn in Liverpool’s side. Liverpool have been held eight times at home this season and I think Stoke will go there and give it everything as it’s their last remaining focus after playing in so many competitions. They are good enough to go to Anfield these days and get some sort of result, not necessarily a win but this would be another fixture I could see going the distance – and that would mean a re-match at The Britannia.
I'm tempted to say Liverpool are the favourites for this competition. Their performances in the big games have been very good - it's been finding that level on consistency in the seemingly more routine games that's cost them in the league.
But if they can continue to grind out those one-off performances - which is, after all, what cup football is all about - then I can see them going on to complete a 'cup double'.
Meanwhile in the Premier League, Fulham face Swansea in a game for the purists, if not for those keen on seeing something fiercely competitive. Both sides have done very well to secure safety so early on in the season and as neither side are going anywhere in a hurry, it could lack that competitive edge. It will be tremendous on the eye but I don’t think it will go down in history as one of the most meaningful games of this Premier League season.
Newcastle are just about alive in the race for Europe, I think it’s more likely that they will just miss out, but it will still be a tremendous return. They take on a Norwich side that looked a little bit tired last weekend. They’ve reached that stage of the season where they can either play without any inhibition or results will tail off after realising the magnitude of what they have achieved.
Wigan played very well last week and had a wonderful chance to beat Norwich. They have good wingbacks in Boyce and Beausejour, and an industrious midfield but don’t have anyone who looks likely to score any great weight of goals. Opponents West Brom won three on the bounce before losing at Old Trafford, which is the story of their season – no consistency, but on their day good enough to take on the best. However Wigan are far from the best and despite their stirrings at Norwich, I’m rather thinking West Brom will return to form with a win.
Manchester United go to Wolves on Sunday with the chance to go four points clear, which would make the top of the table look very different to how it has done for the majority of the season. I expect them to take that chance, even with their defeat at Molineux last season. Wolves have drawn one and lost two under Terry Connor, who has been left holding the baby, a baby that is screaming its head off at the moment. I don’t think that footballing father figure, Sir Alex, will make the baby’s mood any better.
Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more. For more information visit espn.co.uk/tv
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