We are coming to the business end of this season of the FA Cup. For me it is less interesting than when teams such as Jarrow Roofing or Bedlington Terriers were in the competition, but it is interesting nonetheless.
With plans possibly afoot to kill off FA Cup replays and play games midweek in order to increase English chances in Europe and in international tournaments, we should enjoy the cup in its current form. Although looking ahead, I’m not seeing too many possible shocks.
I honestly expect an all-Premier League last eight. It would encapsulate what this season has thus far been about in the FA Cup. When arguably the biggest upset occurred in the first game of the first round proper – Salford City 2-0 Notts County if you are struggling to remember – and when the only major upset featuring a Premier League outfit involved Swansea City, you know it has not been a classic.
Also I have been predicting upsets all the way through, jinxing Carlisle et al. If I say no lower league side will triumph, perhaps that will clear the way?
In which case, Arsenal, West Brom, Watford, Everton, West Ham, Spurs, Manchester City and Manchester United are my picks for the quarter finals.
For the holders, things have not been bumpy. Arsenal have not been put off their stride once by the challenges of Sunderland or Burnley at home, so I have no doubt Hull – who they play in London for the third season in a row after meeting in the 2014 final and the 2015 first round – will be stomped over once again. 3-0.
West Brom may have some issues with Reading after only getting past League One Peterborough thanks to a Darren Fletcher thunderbolt and some woeful Posh penalties, but I can see Pulis yanking them through by their tonsils if necessary. 1-1, WBA on the replay.
Of all the Premier League teams outside the European bubble, Watford have possibly the best chance of winning the whole thing. A strong squad, a fan base starved of silverware, no other commitments with relegation not a threat, and feeble opposition in this dire current Leeds brand. 4-0 to Watford.
Both Bournemouth and Everton have been poor this season. You know the Toffees, with their £28m front man and ambitions of breaking the top four, have won only 14 of 34 games this season? No wonder Joey Barton is worried. Still, they are better than Bournemouth, who are starting to show climber’s fatigue. 1-2.
Having been to and loved Upton Park, it would be superb just to get one more FA Cup game at the wonderful old ground. West Ham will have eyes on European football at the Olympic Stadium next season, but Mssrs Brady, Gold and Sullivan would happily take it via a Wembley final. Blackburn aren’t good enough to offer stiff opposition. 0-2.
Tottenham are going to win the Premier League. Sorry, didn’t you know that? Is that a spoiler? Well, clearly you have never been to a pub in Enfield Town. The medals are already in the post, and the Premier League is being renamed the Kane Honorary Trophy. Anyway, a Spurs double is suddenly by no means ludicrous, they face a waning Palace at this stage after all. 2-0 to the Spurs.
Chelsea v Manchester City is the marquee fixture, between two bosses who definitely won’t be there next season and two expensively assembled squads who could miss out on the Champions League (well, the Blues definitely and City will probably come fourth in the end). So this presents both with their best trophy chance. Tut tut. 0-0, then City win the replay.
Finally, on Monday, Shrewsbury host Manchester United. The Shrews stunned a fully Rooneyed Everton a few years back and took Chelsea all the way in the League Cup last season, but Van Gaal won’t allow his beleaguered tenure to end in Shropshire. 0-1. It will be close.