with Nick Pulford
The FA Cup is in a mess and this weekend brings a jumble of fifth-round matches and uncompleted ties from the previous round. The quarter-finalists won't be known for another 12 days at least and that's without any replays in the leftover games.
What is clear is that once again the elite teams are enjoying a fairly smooth passage towards the final. Although Tottenham were knocked out in the fourth round, that was by another Premier League team, Fulham, and there is little threat to the big clubs until the competition narrows to teams from the top division or at least the upper reaches of the Championship.
That has not happened yet and the fifth round could hardly be easier for Manchester United and Arsenal. They have drawn two of the three lowest-placed clubs remaining in the competition and there is little doubt that the gulf in class will be pressed home on the pitch.
Manchester City and Chelsea had a little difficulty in the fourth round and were held to away draws (more understandably in Chelsea's case because they played always-tough Everton). Both teams are well positioned now because they have home advantage for this week's replays as well as for the fifth round if they make it through.
Chelsea can't take anything for granted against Everton because they haven't beaten the Toffees since the 2009 FA Cup final. They were a goal down after a minute at Wembley and eventually won 2-1 with a Frank Lampard strike in the 72nd minute. Close games have become the norm in Chelsea-Everton clashes, with nine of the past 17 ending all-square, and most have been of the low-scoring type often associated with Everton. The notable exception was the 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in the league last season, but 10 of the past 17 have had under 2.5 goals.
Five of the seven higher-scoring matches have been won by Chelsea, compared with two of the 10 lower-scoring games. That suggests Carlo Ancelotti's side are highly probable winners if they score two or more goals but that they will need to do that to dispose of Everton.
That's where Chelsea's poor scoring run enters the equation. Since their problems kicked in at the end of October, they have scored two or more goals in just two of their seven home games against Premier League opponents. Although they appeared to have rediscovered their scoring touch when winning 4-2 at Sunderland and 4-0 at Bolton, the balance of their attack has been upset by Fernando Torres's arrival.
Frank Lampard has been moved from his usual position to make room for a three-man strike force, but that seems counter-productive because for many seasons Lampard's attacking midfield role has been a key factor in Chelsea's goalscoring capability.
As successive England managers have found, Lampard is not the same player when he is denied that attacking role.Everton certainly know how to expose Chelsea's recent problems up front because they have twice held them 1-1 since the end of October.
Everton on the handicap and under 2.5 goals are the best options.
Stoke v Brighton is interesting because the visitors have knocked out two higher-placed clubs in the past two rounds without being given much publicity. First they won a south-coast derby 3-1 at home to Portsmouth and then they went away to record a 1-0 victory against an even better Championship side, Watford.
Brighton are three points clear at the top of League One and can be considered a side of Championship class already, so the leap to taking on a mid-table Premier League team might not be as far as it seems.
Stoke, though, have an improving cup record and at home they have won four and drawn one of their five FA Cup ties under Tony Pulis. Most Premier League teams visit Stoke in trepidation and Pulis's side look decent value.
Cup specialists Birmingham have an excellent chance of progressing against Sheffield Wednesday, who are 16th in League One. The Blues are already through to next weekend's Carling Cup final and last season they reached the FA Cup quarter-finals. The only two teams to beat them in cup competition since their return to the Premier League were from the top flight and Birmingham look reasonably priced too.
This type of match-up often has more goals than expected - Birmingham's five cup games against lower-league opposition this season have produced 21 goals - and over 2.5 goals looks a good bet.
West Ham v Burnley on Monday night could have plenty of goals too. The Hammers have little problem scoring (they have been shut out in just three of their 19 home games this season) but their fatal weakness is their low number of clean sheets. Burnley also have a good scoring record and in Eddie Howe they have recruited a young manager on the up. Their record since he took charge is four wins and two draws out of seven and this could be the match for an upset.
Either way, over 2.5 goals looks likely. Burnley have scored in five of their seven games for Howe.
Wins in 15 cup ties for Birmingham since they returned to the Premier League: 10
Goals for Arsenal striker Robin van Persie in 10 appearances in 2011: 12
Shortlist: Freiburg, Hannover, Birmingham, Stoke, Millwall, QPR, Derby, Fiorentina, Getafe, Schalke
Top 5 bets
1 Hannover home win
Too strong at home for poor travellers Kaiserslautern
2 Millwall home win
Can stretch winning home league run to seven
3 QPR away win
The leaders are improving; hosts Preston are not
4 Fiorentina home win
Have taken 19 points out of 21 at home to teams below them
5 Getafe home win
Remain a team to back at home to weak opponents