FA Cup best bets of the weekend: Manchester City overreaction leaves plenty of value
It’s sure to be a close match with Chelsea, but Citizens poor form has been exaggerated, while Cup kings Arsenal should easily traverse Hull
Chelsea and Manchester City have been two of the best performers in the FA Cup in recent years, lifting the trophy in five out of six seasons between them up to 2012, but one of them is not going to make it to the quarter-finals this year after they were drawn together in the glamour tie of the fifth round.
The two sides have further demonstrated their pedigree in knockout competitions with a League Cup win each in the last two years and City have the chance of another when they meet Liverpool in next weekend’s final, which emphasises their excellence in this type of football even though both are under-performing in the Premier League this season.
Consistency has been lacking for both teams this season, with Chelsea languishing in 12th place in the league table after a terrible defence as reigning champions and City having recently suffered back-to-back home defeats by title rivals, and they are in a state of flux over their managerial positions.
Chelsea have Guus Hiddink as interim boss following the departure of Jose Mourinho, while Manuel Pellegrini is now left in the position of keeping the bench warm for the arrival of Pep Guardiola as City’s new manager in the summer.
City, remarkably, are still in the hunt for four trophies and the picture could look very different – one way or the other – at the end of a crucial week. In between tomorrow’s visit to Chelsea and next weekend’s League Cup final, Pellegrini’s side travel to Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday night.
This is the stage of the season when the matches really start to mean something and the next week could see City celebrating a first piece of silverware as well as progressing on two other fronts, or at the other extreme it could leave them with the Premier League as virtually their only hope.
There is no doubt City need to up their game after the damaging league defeats by Leicester and Tottenham, but the odds available on tomorrow’s match seem to be an overreaction to those results.
Before those setbacks, City had lost only one of their previous 11 games against Premier League opposition in all competitions and had won seven. Overall this season, City have won 19 and lost just four of their 26 games in all competitions against teams outside the Premier League top five, which suggests the sense of crisis has been exaggerated.
Chelsea are unbeaten in nine league games since Hiddink took charge, but only three of those matches were against teams in the overall top eight and most of them (six out of nine) have been draws. The standout win was the 1-0 at Arsenal, but otherwise Chelsea have beaten only out-of-form sides and have depended heavily on keeping a clean sheet.
City carry plenty of threat and look good on the handicap at least, but the win odds for a team of their quality are too good to miss.
Arsenal, who have taken over as the cup kings in the last couple of years and are going for a hat-trick that has not been achieved since the 19th century, were handed another charmed draw with a home tie against Hull.
This is the third year in a row the two sides have met in the FA Cup and, after being given a scare in the 2014 final before winning in extra-time, Arsenal found it much easier with home advantage in last season’s third round, winning 2-0.
Buoyed by last week’s league win over Leicester, Arsenal look capable of covering the handicap again even though Hull are currently top of the Championship.
Watford are being given every chance of a cup run and they look home bankers against Championship side Leeds.
West Ham have a more difficult task away to Blackburn and might need a replay, while Everton look favourites to oppose for their trip to Bournemouth.
Everton do not have a clear edge on recent form and Bournemouth are the handicap pick.
West Brom, whose manager Tony Pulis takes the FA Cup seriously and has a good record in the competition, may reward handicap backers away to Reading, although their low-scoring tendency is a concern.
Tottenham should beat Crystal Palace at home on current form but the complicating factor is that they played in Italy on Thursday night in the Europa League. Manchester United also had an away tie in the Europa League, which did not go well, but they have an extra day to recover and surely will not trip up against Shrewsbury.
Manchester City away win
Odds too big on overall form
Bournemouth on handicap
Victory over Everton would not be a shock
Arsenal on handicap
In the mood for a clear-cut win
Sheffield Wednesday on handicap
Championship’s form side rate well
Hertha Berlin on handicap
Only one defeat at home this season
West Brom, Athletic Bilbao
Home win for Chelsea this season against a team currently above them in the table