Romance Is Dead. Long Live The FA Cup 4th Round

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke's blushes in the third round against Wrexham

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke’s blushes in the third round against Wrexham

While the third round has become hamstrung by cliché and mythology and never fails to disappoint, all the cool kids know the fourth round is where it’s really at. It’s the orange to the third round’s black. Chia seeds to quinoa.

Let the hopeless romantics delude themselves that a postman will score a late winner against a Premier League side. Let them evoke nostalgia from Motty’s sheepskin coat. Let them revel in sepia-tinged David and Goliath fables of yesteryear.

For those of us who Andy Townsend might describe as ‘having something about them’ it is this weekend that offers the true promise of upset and drama as the gene pool gets stronger and the vague notion of a cup run becomes a genuine possibility.

FA Cup Outright Odds:

Chelsea 17/4

Manchester City 9/2

Manchester United 5/1

Arsenal 7/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Take Rochdale’s (15/4 with Intertops.eu) hosting of Stoke (13/20) on Monday evening. The Potters’ previous opponents were Conference side Wrexham at the Britannia and though the Welshmen applied themselves outstandingly – ‘plucky’ I believe is the obligatory term – was there any doubt as to whether the top flight club would ultimately prevail? They always do. Class tells as legs tire and all that.

This time out Mark Hughes’ men travel to Spotland to face a side contesting a League One play-off place who have brushed aside a Christmas blip and rediscovered some fine form. In a tight hostile environment packed to the rafters with fervent believers – and presumably some snowy conditions levelling the field – even Hughes’ battle-hardened eleven will struggle to impose their superiority.

 

At Villa Park Bournemouth (19/10 with AllYouBet.ag) almost go into the tie as favourites having scored more goals in the Midlands in a single game this term (their 8-0 drubbing of Brum at St Andrews in October) than a misfiring Aston Villa (5/4) have managed in 11 attempts (having notched just seven at home). It’s a mind-boggling statistic that aptly illustrates the gulf in attacking freedom shown by both sides and you almost feel sorry for Paul Lambert that the hat threw up this no-win clash for a game that might decide his managerial fate.

Elsewhere high-flying Bristol City (13/5) will fancy their chances against West Ham (19/20) while draw-specialists Brighton (4/1) will see the visit of Arsenal (57/100) as a blessed relief from relegation concerns (all odds via AllYouBet.ag).

 

For those among us who still believe in the magic of the cup – aww bless – please brace yourselves for this but what really takes the fourth round up a notch on its quixotic cousin is the increasing likelihood of an all-Premier League affair. Oh and while we’re at it Santa Claus doesn’t exist either.

Unusually this year however there are only two top flight clashes in Tottenham v Leicester and Southampton v Palace and while neither are exactly an all-Merseyside derby or top four grudge-match both offer intriguing narratives. Victory at the Lane will give Foxes fans a rare glimpse of Wembley on the horizon to accompany a spirit-sapping fight for survival while Alan Pardew will scent the opportunity to cement his place back in Eagles folklore should Southampton prioritise their Champion’s League dream. The odds for either club going all the way this year are generous across the board – especially considering their onerous away trips this weekend – but bear in mind the recent trend for relegation-battlers reaching the final.

Another long-shot for cup glory lies in the victor from Birmingham v West Brom, a tasty Midlands encounter that is given extra titillation with each side being turned around by new managers. Since his appointment in late-October – following their eight goal humiliation as it goes – Gary Rowett has performed superbly in revitalising the Blues fortunes while new Baggies gaffer Tony Pulis may not usually value a distracting cup run but is intent on imposing winning ways to his new club.
Okay, so you want one ceding to FA Cup magic? It of course comes in the form of Cambridge squaring up to the slightly more famous United. Televised this Friday evening – how traditional – it will give the U’s some welcome exposure, some even more welcome revenue, and their players a chance to swap shirts with Wayne Rooney and co.

They won’t win naturally because romance is dead but all the very best to them.

Long live the 4th round. Motty, put away your sheepskin, things just got real.

 

Betting Instinct tip Manchester United to crush Cambridge dreams with a 4-0 win is 9/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

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Optimism aplenty at Stoke as Bojan arrival signals intent

Bojan could prove a shrewd signing for an increasingly exciting Stoke side

Bojan could prove a shrewd signing for an increasingly exciting Stoke side

Interesting things are starting to happen at Stoke City. Perennial scrappers under old boss Tony Pulis, always good enough to survive comfortably but never quite exciting enough to totally appease their own fans, they have shown remarkable signs of evolution under the experienced watch of Mark Hughes and, if this Summer’s transfer dealings are anything to go by, that progress shows no sign of abating. Their best piece of business undoubtedly has to be the capture of forward Bojan Krkić from Barcelona.

A player with a quite astonishing youth record, Bojan was once considered the next Messi and as such broke into the Barca side at the age of just 17 in 2006. Big things were expected of the prodigious striker but they failed to materialise and after a transfer to Roma, loan to Milan, a bizarre move back to Catalonia and a spell at Ajax he has ended up in the Potteries for a fee rumoured to be around £3million.

For Stoke to land such a high-profile player is a huge coup but it isn’t a deal without risk. Bojan has often been accused of having a poor focus and temperament; this much is reflected in his inconsistent goalscoring form. Perhaps more worryingly, one of the main problems that blighted him in his early years in senior football was his slight physique and the propensity for him to be bullied out of games. Stoke will hope that at 23 he has bulked up but if there are any doubts about his strength, these will surely be exploited in the fearsome world of the Premier League.

And yet what a transfer this could prove to be for the Potters. If Bojan can rediscover the form that saw him become the most highly-rated young player in Europe then Stoke could reap monumental rewards. He has exquisite technique and a silky touch and if his manager and teammates can indulge him, there is no telling how influential he could prove to be. This isn’t just a brilliant transfer for Stoke; it’s a statement of intent. Under Pulis, a player like Bojan would have had no chance of being integrated into the side. Hughes has shown that he is prepared to play attractive, attacking football and as such Bojan could thrive under him.

 

Stoke City v Aston Villa Betting Odds:

Stoke win – 19/20

Aston Villa win – 14/5

Draw – 23/10

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

This evolution of the team was in evidence last season, especially after Christmas. He swapped Kenwyne Jones for the far more mobile and technically able Peter Odemwingie who flourished, finishing the season with five goals and many plaudits. The change ran deeper than this, though. Stoke began to play more expressively, more inventively and with more assurance on the ball. It allowed the team to build a momentum and showed that many of their players could actually play. The result was their best ever Premier League finish.

Next season Bojan will be supported in forward areas by Odemwingie and the wonderfully talented Marko Arnautović, as well as fellow new boys Mame Biram Diouf, who had a respectable scoring record at Hannover, and erm… Steve Sidwell (leave Sidwell alone – ed.). It is a surprisingly excellent-looking attacking group and that is without even mentioning the experienced and more physical Peter Crouch and Jon Walters who seem to be on the fringes of the first team – a further sign of the team’s technical development under Hughes. Defender Phil Bardsley is also an astute signing on a free transfer.

 

On paper, Stoke will have one of the more attractive and goal-friendly sides in the division. The top 7 seem streets ahead of the rest of the Premier League but Stoke will be battling the likes of Newcastle and Southampton for another top 10 finish. If they can show more progress this season and continue to develop their style then who knows, maybe they could challenge for a European place and begin to compete higher up the league. A cup run may be a more realistic ambition this term.

There is an element of pie-in-the-sky to all of this. There are no guarantees Bojan and Diouf will adapt well to the Premier League and Hughes may suffer in his second season, as he has done at previous clubs. For now, though, Potters fans will be filled with optimism for the coming season. If Bojan can recapture his scoring touch, their faith may well be vindicated.

 

Betting Instinct tip Bojan to score the first goal against Aston Villa is 6/1 with Coral

 

JACK CHATTERTONJack C avatar is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and  Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter  or Google+.

Chelsea v Liverpool: Five memorable matches

Chelsea must wish they had the likes of Didier Drogba still at the club

Players like Didier Drogba have lit up this fixture in the past

Liverpool’s title credentials will be placed under scrutiny over the Christmas period with quickfire trips to Manchester City and Chelsea.

In recent years the Reds have been involved in some memorable clashes with the latter of those two challengers in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

Here, Betting Expert has picked out five of the best meetings between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea v Liverpool Betting Odds

Chelsea win – 2.00

Draw – 3.30

Liverpool win – 3.40

(All odds from GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Chelsea 4-2 Liverpool, January 1997

The Merseysiders were beaten FA Cup finalists during the previous year, so they would have been hoping to go one better this time around. It appeared that they would cruise into the fourth round when goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore within the opening 21 minutes put them 2-0 up.

The introduction of Mark Hughes as a half-time substitute breathed life into Chelsea, though, as the former Manchester United frontman reduced the arrears five minutes after the restart. Italian Gianfranco Zola then drew the Londoners level, before his compatriot Gianluca Vialli sealed the victory for the hosts with a brace.

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool, May 2003

Had Chelsea not won this game, their recent history could have been very different. It was a straight shootout on the final day of the Premier League season, with the winner snatching the final Champions League qualification berth. Dubbed ‘the £20 million pound match’, it was the away side that claimed an early lead through Finnish centre-back Sami Hyypia.

Chelsea’s response was instant, with Marcel Desailly heading in a Jesper Gronkjaer cross. The Danish winger then turned scorer in the 26th minute when he curled in from the edge of the area for what would be the winning goal. Later, as the game entered into stoppage time, Steven Gerrard was handed his marching orders for two bookable offences. Had Chelsea fallen short in the race for Europe’s elite tournament, many believe that Roman Abramovich would not have bid for the club.

Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, April 2008

Having played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Anfield, the two teams reconvened at the Bridge to play for the right to take on Man United in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. Didier Drogba looked to have booked Chelsea’s place in the Russian capital with an early strike, but Fernando Torres forced extra-time.

The hosts regained their composure during the additional 30 minutes, with Frank Lampard restoring their lead from the penalty spot after Hyypia had felled Michael Ballack. Drogba then made it 3-1, before Liverpool’s Ryan Babel ensured a tense finish with a strike from distance. Ultimately, it would be no more than a consolation effort.

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, April 2009

Twelve months later the teams met in the same competition, albeit at the quarter-final stage. It seemed that Chelsea would ease into the final four, having returned from the opening leg on Merseyside with a 3-1 victory for their efforts. However, Liverpool had not read the script and goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso levelled up the scores on aggregate at half-time.

Chelsea rallied after the restart and actually took the lead courtesy of goals from Drogba, Alex and Lampard. In a match that had started to become more reminiscent of a basketball clash, Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt then scored in quick succession to put Liverpool 4-3 in front, before Lampard rounded off the scoring, sealing a 7-5 aggregate win for Chelsea in the process.

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool, February 2011

Just a week earlier Chelsea had parted with £50 million to land the services of Torres from Liverpool. However, it would be no dream debut for the Spaniard, who was replaced by Salomon Kalou in the 66th minute following a lacklustre display. Just three minutes later, Liverpool midfielder Raul Meireles pounced on a mix-up between Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to score the only goal of the game.

liam_avatarLIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.