The Premier League has three games scheduled for the weekend but they will clearly take a back seat to the FA Cup. The semi-finals of the world’s oldest cup competition are upon us and four big English teams will be vying for a place in the final.
European aspirations, league disappointments will be put in the back burner when Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea take the pitch at Wembley on Saturday and Sunday.
The four clubs have 39 FA Cup winners’ tags among them and the quartet have enough motivation to add more honours to their trophy cabinet at the end of the domestic campaign.
So, let’s dive in and see what to expect from the two games lined up this weekend and who could make it to the final of the FA Cup this season.
Arsenal vs Manchester City (Prediction 1-3):
Arsenal start out as underdogs against a Manchester City side who are looking to win the FA Cup for the second season running.
Pep Guardiola’s side have already won the League Cup this year and are vying for the FA Cup and the Champions League to gloss over their disappointing Premier League campaign.
The Gunners have improved since them and their 2-1 win over Liverpool earlier in the week will give them confidence. While they got dominated by the Reds in the second half, Arsenal’s often frail defence stood up to the challenge and kept the Premier League champions at bay.
But the challenge against Manchester City will be vastly different. On their day, Pep Guardiola’s side can carve apart any side in Europe and unlike Liverpool, they have enough motivation to win on Saturday.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties are known to everyone and against a side like the Citizens, the north Londoners have the risk of getting badly exposed.
However, Mikel Arteta is also aware of Manchester City’s defensive problems and will be encouraged by the difficulties relegation-threatened Bournemouth created for last season’s Premier League champions this week.
Arsenal have the attacking players to take advantage of any soft defending from Guardiola’s side in the FA Cup contest. The key for Arsenal will be to get enough of the ball to create those openings for their forward line.
On paper, it looks like a straight forward win for Manchester City but Arsenal could always spring a surprise as they showed against Liverpool at the Emirates earlier in the week.
Manchester United vs Chelsea (Prediction 1-2)
Unlike the two teams in the first semi-final, Manchester United and Chelsea have enough in their mind with the top four race in the league.
Both sides are locked in a three-way battle with Leicester City for a place in the Champions League next season and whatever the managers say in public, they will have one eye on their league games next week and that will be reflected on their team selection.
An FA Cup win would be massive for both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard as they look to establish their credentials at the top level of the game.
But both managers will have players who would be jaded and will need a bit of rest before the last two league games. Whether they can afford to drop one or two of their key players for the FA Cup game remains the question.
Solskjaer has already moaned about the extra 48 hours rest Chelsea are getting ahead of the game and the Manchester United manager will be worried as his side have looked a bit tired in the last two league games.
The Norwegian will have to take a couple of massive calls in key positions. Nemanja Matic is likely to start against his former side after only playing the last 30 minutes of Manchester United’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Thursday.
Both Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes played the full 90 minutes and Solskjaer could opt to rest either of the two. Fred could return to the midfield as part of the shake-up.
The Manchester United manager could also consider changing his front three and that could see Daniel James return to the starting eleven in place of teenage sensation Mason Greenwood. Solskjaer will clearly have an eye on West Ham’s visit to Old Trafford next week.
Lampard also has selection headaches as his side have a pivotal game against Liverpool lined up next week. Will the Chelsea manager sacrifice the FA Cup in favour of a top-four place?
He was a four-time FA Cup winner as a player and values the competition very much. He will also want to straighten his record against Manchester United after losing three times to Solskjaer’s side this season. But the Chelsea boss is also aware of the importance of the Champions League to the club.
Olivier Giroud could get a start at Wembley and will be tasked with leading the line for Chelsea.
Lampard will also have to take a call on whether to change his system or go with the same 4-3-3 that has yielded three losses against Manchester United this season.
Chelsea start as favourites as the extra 48 hours of rest and preparation time could become the key in a game where both teams could run on fumes towards the final minutes.
But the result of the game will largely depend on which manager can focus his team selection on the day out at Wembley rather than sweat over keeping his best players fit for the last two league games.
Both sides have much to lose in the final week of the domestic season.