As the FA Cup reaches the last-16 stage, the tie of the round is at Stamford Bridge on Monday as Ole Gunner Solkjaer takes his Red Devils to west London to take on the beleaguered Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea.
In fact, both teams head into this tie off the back of domestic defeats – although Chelsea won 2-1 in Malmo on Thursday night in the Europa League – although United’s 2-0 home humbling by PSG in the Champions League didn’t come close to the humiliation suffered last Sunday by Chelsea in their 6-0 defeat by Man City at the Etihad.
Sarri is under massive pressure and, with the Premier League title well and truly out of the question, he realistically needs to win either the FA Cup or Europa League to even give himself a shot at retaining his job. Even one of those may not be enough, but what is clear is that an FA Cup exit on Monday night will only heighten calls for Roman Abramovich to pull the trigger.
The feeling in the United camp is altogether different and since the departure of Jose Mourinho, the Red Devils have gone from strength to strength and even the midweek defeat by PSG was met with an acceptance that on the night the French champions were simply the better side. No part of the defeat was laid at the door of the manager, and Solkjaer’s stock remains high.
TOP TIP! – Man Utd to win 2-1 @ +1100 / Pogba as anytime goalscorer @ +260
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Interestingly, cup games between these two have been totally dominated by Chelsea in the Abramovich era – where they have won on six consecutive ties – and this will be something Chelsea fans will cling onto. Equally interesting though is that prior to that run of six the Blues had failed to get past United in cup competitions on nine consecutive occasions, but in the here and now it’s Sarri’s men who have the upper hand in knockout games.
With both teams out of title contention and with only a top four place to play for, this tie has taken on an even greater significance, with both being just four wins away from lifting English football’s most glamourous prize.
Before we look at who we think may triumph, it’s well worth noting that for the first time there is no provision for replays in the fifth round of this year’s FA Cup, so if needed there will be extra time and penalties at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
Also worth noting is that despite the murmurings at Chelsea around Sarri’s future and the Blues having suffered such a thumping defeat in Manchester last time out in the Premier League, the bookies still see Chelsea as odds-on favourites for this one. Therefore there are certainly worse bets out there than the straight Manchester Utd win, which is available for a very reasonable +250 .
But we’re tempted by something a little more generous than +250 and in terms of value, a narrow United win is available at +1200 for 1-0 and +1100 for 2-1. On the basis of us not seeing Chelsea draw another blank and at least getting on the scoresheet, we’re going to run with the latter – so 2-1 United with 188bet at +1100 is our recommended bet. Also, we’re very drawn to the +260 on offer from Bet365 for the in-form Paul Pogba as anytime goalscorer.
TOP TIP! – City to win 4-1 @ +1300 / Amond as first goalscorer @ +2000
The romance of this year’s FA Cup has been provided by the Welshmen, who earned this money-spinning tie against quadruple-chasing City with thrilling home wins over Leicester City and Middlesbrough.
This is no fluke though, because the side from south-east Wales did something similar last season and beat Leeds Utd at home and then drew with Tottenham before being knocked out in the replay at Wembley. Their home, Rodney Green, has proved to be a very uncomfortable place for visitors from higher divisions
All of which belies Newport’s lowly standing of 15th in League Two, and Pep Guardiola will not make the mistake of under-estimating Mike Flynn’s men, who will squeeze every last drop of advantage they can out of the soggy, bumpy pitch and the small, tight stadium with a packed house of raucous Welshmen.
What is also certain is that Guardiola will use his wider squad for this tie, with their Champions League round -of-16 first-leg tie against Schalke in Gelsenkirchen just a matter of days away, followed next weekend by the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea.
It goes without saying, however, that the Citizens start as massive favourites – even a City ‘B-team’ would be an expensively assembled collection of internationals and top-grade youngsters – and alarmingly for the Exiles, Guardiola’s men have scored 12 goals without reply in their two FA Cup ties so far, with a 5-0 win over Burnley and a 7-0 demolition of Rotherham.
City do have a few injury doubts ahead of the game and so it’s unlikely that Guardiola will risk Claudio Bravo, Benjamin Mendy and Vincent Kompany, but it’s still be a City side more than capable of winning in second gear if they can survive the Rodney Green levelling factors as described above.
Adding to Guardiola’s desire to get through this tie is the fact that this was the round where they exited last season’s competition, with a surprise 1-0 defeat at Wigan.
For the Exiles, Mark O’Brien and Joss Labadie are expected to be fit after missing Tuesday’s defeat against the MK Dons, but new signing Ade Azeez is unavailable as he’s cup tied.
Worth noting is that, despite their lowly league position, Flynn’s team have conceded just two goals in their last seven home matches, and in their four FA Cup home ties over the last two seasons they have conceded only three times – a really impressive stat. So maybe, just maybe, it won’t be the avalanche of goals that many are predicting.
However, as much as we’d love to see the Exiles do it again, City are a couple of levels higher than Leicester and Boro, and will be well aware of the storm that awaits them.
We do however feel that Newport do have a goal in them and will, possibly, even take a shock lead. So, in terms of value, we’re tempted by the 4-1 to City +1300 with BetVictor but with Newport striker Padraig Amond getting the first goal to edge his side ahead +2000 with Bet365.
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