Solid City highly rated in FA Cup clash of titans
Chelsea's previous shutout at Etihad will be hard to reproduce, given the hosts' scoring record
Are you a romantic or a realist? How you view the draw for this weekend's fifth round of the FA Cup - with the two big head-to-heads of Manchester City v Chelsea and Arsenal v Liverpool - will say a lot about your personality.
Either you will see it as an opportunity for the competition to open up and give one of the non-elite teams, perhaps Everton or Southampton, a shot at a trophy, or you will expect the two winners of the big matches to be holding all the aces on the road to the final at Wembley on May 17.
The romantics were granted their wish last year when Wigan toppled Manchester City in the final, but that was a rare upset. The last time the cup had been snatched away from a big-six team in the final was in 1995, when Everton beat Manchester United 1-0, and last year was only the third time in 25 years that the cup went to a team from outside the big six.
Manchester City and Chelsea are the best cup teams in England, and arguably close to establishing themselves as the best in the Premier League as the title race moves into its final stages, so whoever wins their tie will be favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley. Only two of the past seven finals have been won by a team other than Chelsea or City, with Chelsea having won four and City one.
Chelsea may have a psychological edge after winning both of the league meetings with City this season, thanks to the tactical mastery of Jose Mourinho. Before those setbacks, City had enjoyed a run of good results against Chelsea with four wins and a draw from the previous five meetings, including a 2-1 FA Cup semi-final victory last April.
That was Chelsea's sole defeat in 90-minute play in their last 32 FA Cup matches (25 wins and six draws otherwise) and City have a similar record: 15 wins and only two defeats in their last 22. In addition, City have reached this year's League Cup final with five wins and a draw in 90-minute play.
Tomorrow's match is hard to call, with both teams in top form (Chelsea are first and City second over the last eight matches in the Premier League), but City rate the bet at the odds because their home form suggests the shutout achieved by Chelsea at the Etihad will be difficult to reproduce.
City have scored in all their other 18 home games this season, winning 17 and losing only to Bayern Munich, 3-1, in the Champions League. Although Norwich won 3-2 at the Etihad on the final day of last season, the last English team to take anything from City when they have scored at home in a meaningful match was Liverpool in a Premier League 2-2 just over a year ago.
A Chelsea clean sheet is not out of the question, of course, but the probability is that City will score this time and that will give them a good chance of victory at the odds.
The psychological edge also appears to be with the away team in Arsenal v Liverpool after the Gunners were mauled 5-1 at Anfield just seven days ago. That was another setback in a big match for Arsenal, who have won only three out of nine against big-six teams in all competitions this season (all three at home, but they have also failed to win there three times).
The problem for Liverpool is that their away form is not on a par with their home record and that raises doubt over their ability to confirm last week's superiority. Their goalscoring threat gives them a reasonable chance, however, as Arsenal have lost every big-six match in which they have conceded this season. Liverpool have scored in their last nine away games (notably, the last blank was in a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Arsenal in November) and they are a decent bet on the handicap at least.
There are no outstanding bets in the other FA Cup ties, with the favourites plenty short enough without being cast-iron and no obvious upset chances for the outsiders. Sunderland, who beat Southampton 2-1 at home on their run to the League Cup final, must have a chance of repeating that result, although the visitors will be stronger this time and perhaps eyeing the opportunity to go all the way.
Sheffield Wednesday have improved under Stuart Gray and are a reasonable shot to beat Charlton, while Brighton could upset Hull on Monday night.
Ipswich, Brentford, Atalanta