Written by Commodore Vegas for @Hollywoodbets.
It comes as something of a relief that there is no Premier League football this weekend. I could do with a change of pace. It was a sloppy weekend for Yours Truly, as Everton got done by Tony Pulis and PSG failed to find a winner against Lille. Even my one good tip of the weekend (Southampton to win 1-0) failed to bring a much-needed reprieve, as my money was squandered elsewhere. So here we are, seeking solace in the FA Cup. Hardly an ideal hand, but it is the one we’ve been dealt.
The FA Cup has been fairly unremarkable until this point. Hopefully, that will all change this weekend.
Saturday 20 February
We start with a repeat of 2014’s final as Arsenal host Hull in what could be a thrilling encounter. Only Sheffield Wednesday have scored more goals in the Championship this season than Steve Bruce’s side, who look primed to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. For Arsenal, the match provides an unwelcome distraction ahead of a massive clash with Barcelona at the Emirates on Tuesday. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Arsene Wenger give some of his fringe players a run. They should still have the quality in their ranks to get up for the victory, but both teams are tipped to score. You can get on the Matchbet at 24/10.
Watford returned to winning ways with a victory over Crystal Palace last weekend. With their Premier League status close to being secured, the Hornets could well focus their attention on a cup run. They remain just two wins away from a trip to Wembley, with Leeds United standing between them and a place in the quarter-finals. The Midlands-based club find themselves in the bottom half of the Championship table, a position they have been in for a number of years now. Cup victories over Rotherham and Bolton have done little to inflate my opinion of them. They aren’t in Watford’s league, literally or figuratively. There will be no cup upset here. Back the Hornets to triumph at 13/20 and throw that into your weekend multi's.
West Brom 18/10
If it’s an upset you’re after, then turn your attention to the Madjeski Stadium. West Brom may be able to wrestle the points from Premier League clubs, but they aren’t able to do the same against lower league opposition. They needed replays to see off both Bristol City and Peterborough, with the latter going all the way to penalties. Having had a minor dabble on West Brom at 60/1 at the start of the tournament, one would think I would love to see them stomp the innards out of Reading at the weekend, but you’d be wrong. I’ve also got some cash on Bournemouth and Watford, which I’d gladly give up to see the Baggies crash out here. You can get 31/20 for a home win. I suggest you take it.
Where to now for Everton? Their season reached a new low with their home defeat to West Brom at the weekend. Of course Everton should have won the game, with their 427 shots and 99% possession (a bit of hyperbole there, but you get the gist). But they didn’t. This is the story of their season. On Saturday, they face Bournemouth – another side they really should be beating. The two served up a classic when they met at Dean Court earlier this season, with Bournemouth equalizing eight minutes into stoppage time to sneak a 3-3 draw. It wouldn’t surprise me if this one follows suit. The Toffees have shown themselves to be a lily-livered bunch when it comes to defending, while Eddie Howe is another who “wants to play the game in the right way”. The right way is a winning way. Neither are doing that at the moment. Back another high-scoring draw here, with 2-2 on offer at 12/1. Both Teams To Score in a Draw is on offer at 31/10.
Sunday 21 February
West Ham 11/10
West Ham snuck into the fifth round courtesy of a 121st-minute header from Angelo Ogbonna to break Liverpool hearts (myself included). Their reward, a trip to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers. Paul Lambert’s side are another precariously perched near the bottom of the Championship table. While a FA Cup run would be nice for the fans, it really won’t do their survival chances any good. Meanwhile, West Ham will be hoping to end their final season at the Boleyn Ground with a run to the Cup final. Slaven Bilic has spoken fondly of the competition and has made it a focus this season. It would surprise me to see the Hammers slip up at this stage, and I’m backing them to come out on top at just over evens.
Crystal Palace 42/10
Elsewhere on Sunday, there is a London derby as Tottenham host Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane. Alan Pardew’s side might have been considered as contenders earlier this season, but their recent form has seen me reassess their stock. A solitary point against Swansea is all they have to show for their last six matches. Put simply, that’s relegation form. Spurs in contrast, have been in title-winning nick. The victory over Manchester City has their fans believing they can go all the way this season, and I’m finding it hard to doubt them for once. They do have the Europa League to contend with, but Spurs are well above Palace’s level at present and should book their place in the quarter’s fairly comfortably.
Manchester City 5/2
The FA Cup often comes down to who wants it the most. For England’s top clubs it remains third in the list of priorities, firmly behind the league and Champions League. Sunday’s meeting between Chelsea and Man City looks a big one on paper, but with the Champions League looming large, it will be interesting to see who turns out for the respective sides. The Blues bounced back to form with a 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle at the weekend, while City all but ended their involvement in the title race. City also have an away tie in Ukraine to navigate just 72 hours after the meeting at Stamford Bridge, so there should be a couple fresh faces on show. Guus Hiddink has won this competition with Chelsea before and could well do so again. Back them at just over evens to win the game and 11/2 to win the whole tournament.
Monday 22 February
Manchester United 3/10
Monday Night serves up perhaps the tie of the round as the lowest ranked side remaining, Shrewsbury Town, take on Manchester United. Louis van Gaal's iteration may not match the might of previous sides, but United should really be winning this comfortably. And yet, one gets the feeling that Shrewsbury could force a replay. The League One side have already knocked out Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday, while the Red Devils struggled past Wednesday's city rivals before dispatching Derby. You could back an away win at 3/10, but where is the fun in that? Rather stick a tenner on Shrewsbury at 92/10 and shout the underdog home. It's the right thing to do.
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