We’ve got four massive FA Cup quarter finals to look forward to this weekend, spread across three days and starting with Friday night’s clash between Reading and Crystal Palace. That one will have a little extra added spice as Palace manager Alan Pardew left Reading in controversial circumstances back in 2003. The fans haven’t forgotten and he always gets a ‘rowdy’ welcome whenever he returns.
That’s just an appetiser, if you will, to the rest of the weekend’s games with Saturday evening’s match between Everton and Chelsea sure to get the pulse racing. On Sunday there’s a London derby between Arsenal and Watford, after the Gunners eased past Hull 4-0 in midweek, and the last quarter final is arguably the most anticipated as the Premier League’s 5th and 6th placed sides, West Ham and Manchester United, go head-to-head at Old Trafford.
It’s a brilliant weekend of cup action, and we’ve got a tip for each of the four games.
Reading v Crystal Palace
First up we’re going to side with Crystal Palace at +140 with William Hill to get the better of Reading – the last non-Premier League representative left in the cup.
On the face of it this looks like a tricky game, and with promotion off the agenda for the Royals, this is really all they have left to play for this season. They’ve been good at home recently under Brian McDermott and will fancy their chances of an upset, but the tide has been slowly turning for Palace recently despite their woes in the top division.
At one stage Pardew had his side up to 5th in the table and they looked like realistic contenders for a European spot, but a disastrous run of form has seen them fall away to 15th place, and remarkably they’re still not 100% safe from relegation. However, cup form has been the only saving grace of the last few months and they’ve beaten Southampton, Stoke and Spurs to reach this stage. The return of Yannick Bolasie has been instrumental in the last three games, and the goal-scoring problems have been abated a little with the resurgence of form of Connor Wickham has seen him bag four goals in three games. The big targetman is touch and go for this game, but with the likes of Bolasie and Zaha on the wings the Eagles are capable of causing anyone problems. They were unfortunate to go down 2-1 to Liverpool last weekend after Benteke’s controversial penalty, and that sense of injustice could spur them on here.
Everton v Chelsea
It’s hard to know how much the midweek exit from the Champions League will impact on Chelsea, and although they may suffer a hangover from that, they should also be focussed on what is realistically their only chance of silverware and European qualification this season. The same applies to Everton, who on the face of it have under-achieved under Roberto Martinez.
Although they play attractive football, the Toffees have had a soft underbelly this term, as the 3-2 home defeat to West Ham demonstrated last weekend. They were 2-0 up and even though they only had ten men they should have seen the game out. West Ham’s three goals in the last 12 minutes owed as much to Everton’s defensive frailties as to the Hammer’s attacking prowess.
Chelsea meanwhile, have improved significantly since Guus Hiddink came in, but they’ve failed to keep a clean sheet since the 0-0 draw with Watford on the 3rd of February, some nine games ago. Three of the last four games between these two have had three or more goals, and over 2.5 is the obvious call for two teams who are better going forwards than they are going backwards.
Arsenal v Watford
Arsenal despatched Hull with relative ease during the week, and can book a semi final spot at home to Watford at -175 with Paddy Power
The Gunners never looked back after Giroud’s opener against the Tigers and went on to win 4-0 with a brace each from the big Frenchman and Theo Walcott. Arsene Wenger has come in for staunch criticism after a winless run of five games has put them on the verge of exiting the Champions league and left them eight points behind Leicester at the top of the Premier League, but there is still plenty to play for and they are looking for an historic third FA Cup win in as many seasons.
Watford have exceeded expectations in the top flight since promotion, and as good as safe with 37 points. However, they are now winless in three games, and haven’t scored in four (the winning goal in the last round against Leeds was an own goal). A revelation this season, Ighalo’s goals have also dried up and he hasn’t found the net since the fourth round win against Nottingham Forest at the back-end of January.
Manchester United v West Ham
Slaven Bilic has overseen four wins in a row and they’ve only been beaten twice in the last fifteen games. They are more than capable of coming away with at least a draw here against a Manchester United side that face Liverpool in the Europa League on Thursday night and have a host of injuries and suspensions to contend with. Juan Mata will miss the game after his sending off against West Brom, while Wayne Rooney remains on the sidelines with injury.
The Hammers are 5th in the table – above the Red Devils – and last weeks incredible comeback at Everton will have them brimming with confidence ahead of this match. These two are much closer in terms of bare form than the odds would imply, and the value has to be with West Ham avoiding defeat.
Crystal Palace to beat Reading
Friday 11th March, 19:55 GMT
Everton v Chelsea Over 2.5 goals
Saturday 12th March, 17:30 GMT
Arsenal to beat Watford
Sunday 13th March, 13:30 GMT
West Ham or Draw v Manchester United
Sunday 13th March, 16:00 GMT