The FA Cup has reached the quarter-final stage with four mouth-watering ties starting with Burnley’s short trip to face Manchester City on Saturday evening.
Master against apprentice as Kompany returns to City
Manchester City vs Burnley – Saturday, 5.45pm
Vincent Kompany lifted the Premier League trophy four times during a glittering career with Manchester City in which he also won two FA Cups and four League Cups.
His statue stands outside the Etihad. He was an inspirational leader and remained highly influential even in his latter years at the club when his game time was often limited by injury.
Now, with his Burnley side cantering to the Championship title, he can afford a day in the Manchester spring sunshine. Such is the sense of optimism surrounding Kompany and the Clarets, even that may not be too tall an order.
Burnley are 13 points clear of Sheffield United at the top of the Championship with a further six-point buffer over third-placed Middlesbrough.
Pep Guardiola joked that managing against Kompany – who left City after more than a decade’s service in 2019 – makes him feel old.
The City boss said: “He was an incredible figure here. He is one of the biggest legends I have had. On the other side, I’m concerned because when you start to play a game and the opponent on the touchline is a player that you had, you realise how old you are becoming!
“That is a little bit frustrating, but it’s nice to see him. He wants to win, we want to win, and we will take it seriously.”
City have won their last 10 FA Cup home games, scoring 41 goals and conceding just four. Their last such defeat was against a Championship side, however, going down 2-0 against Middlesbrough in January 2015.
Guardiola has tipped Kompany as a potential successor to him at City. Well on course for a return to the Premier League, the stage is set for apprentice to meet its master.
Man Utd feeling at home in the cup competitions under Ten Hag
Man Utd v Fulham – Sunday, 4.30pm
Another cup tie, another home game for Manchester United. This is their 10th domestic cup game where they’ve been drawn to play at Old Trafford. The odds of that happening are a staggering 1,0241/1. You’re unlikely to get much return for a bet on them progressing from this one, though.
Erik ten Hag’s side will be clear favourites on Sunday afternoon, having been able to rest and rotate some key men for the Europa League last-16 win at Real Betis on Thursday and bring off players such as Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes midway through the second half in Spain.
Joao Palhinha’s return from suspension will give the visitors a boost. They’ve been well off their best level in their past two Premier League games without the destructive midfielder at the heart of their system. Marco Silva may also reflect on his side’s 2-1 defeat to United at Craven Cottage, where only a last-gasp Alejandro Garnacho goal denied them a deserved point in November. Garnacho is out injured this time, while Casemiro starts a four-game suspension.
But with just one win in their last 25 trips to Old Trafford and talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic goalless from 11 FA Cup appearances, there are plenty of ominous omens for pessimistic Fulham fans to choose from.
The odds will be pointing towards Man Utd progressing and reaching a record 31st FA Cup semi-final.
Can Brighton March onto Wembley?
Brighton vs Grimsby – Sunday, 2.15pm
It has been quite some week already for Brighton owner Tony Bloom – dubbed the ‘cleverest man to ever place a bet’ – after watching his horse Energumene defend his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham on the same day bitter rivals Crystal Palace were put to the sword at the Amex Stadium.
Bloom, the ‘Godfather of Gambling’ – placed a £400,000 bet on Energumene to pocket £1.2m as his horse came up trumps on Wednesday, and come Sunday night he could well be making plans for only the third FA Cup semi-final appearance in Brighton’s history.
Brighton have League Two Grimsby standing in their way. Phil Jevons was scoring the winner at Blundell Park the last time these two sides met in February 2004, but it is fair to say the clubs have been heading in opposite directions since then.
Bloom and Brighton will not see the Mariners as a soft touch after they became the first team in FA Cup history to eliminate five teams from a higher division in a single season in the competition.
One player who will be determined to book a date at Wembley is Solly March, the in-form midfielder who was unfortunate to miss out on a first call-up to England for the forthcoming European Qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
Since the Premier League returned on Boxing Day, only Marcus Rashford (10) and Erling Haaland (8) have scored more non-penalty goals than March, the cold-blooded killer seeking the Seagulls’ catch of the day.
Does the winner actually lose in the all-Championship tie?
Sheffield United vs Blackburn – Sunday, 12pm
Every club’s supporters dream of a FA Cup run, but if Sheffield United and Blackburn fans were to choose when theirs would be, it probably wouldn’t be this season.
Both sides are looking to secure promotion to the Premier League to boost their long-term future. Particularly Blackburn, who are looking to seal a place in English football’s top table for the first time in 11 years.
But now Championship’s second-best team host the fifth-best side in a tie that could actually spell league trouble for the winner.
The Championship season is always hectic with a lot of midweek action – now the Blades and Rovers face an even more hectic schedule given they are now one win from Wembley.
Sheffield United sit six points ahead of third-placed Middlesbrough – and Michael Carrick’s resurgent side now have the opportunity to breathe even heavier down the Blades’ necks given they are away from Championship action this weekend.
Meanwhile, Blackburn are in a play-off battle which arguably consumes the entire top half of the table. A week off does not help their claims.
Just what will the Championship table look like when this FA Cup quarter-final comes to an end?
Another free hit for Grimsby in their cup run for the ages
Brighton vs Grimsby – Sunday, 2.15pm
The Mariners’ return to the EFL after a one-season stint back in the National League to Sky Bet League Two has been solid, if unspectacular. They sit 15th in the table with 12 games left to play and are 16 points above the relegation zone.
A late dash for the play-offs is not out of the question, but it is more like the club will just go through the motions of the final weeks of the season, until it reaches its conclusion.
It has been a totally different story in the FA Cup. Paul Hurst’s men have embarked on a real cup run for the ages, proving – if there was ever any doubt – the magic of this historic competition is alive and thriving.
As previously mentioned, Grimsby are the first team in FA Cup history to eliminate five teams from a higher division in a single season in the competition, having seen off Southampton from the Premier League, Luton of the Championship and Plymouth, Cambridge and Burton of League One.
The reward for their monumental efforts is a first FA Cup quarter-final since the 1938/39 season, when they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to set up a semi-final match-up with Wolves, which they lost 5-0.
This is a free hit for the club, there’s no doubt about it.
Lose and they can hold their heads high, having made history and a pretty penny along the way. Win and the extraordinary season stays alive, there’s an extra £450,000 in the bank and a trip to Wembley guaranteed. Don’t write Hurst and Co off just yet.