At the end of an eventful week for Manchester United, the Red Devils will hope to top it off by continuing their winning start to 2018. On Monday, they finally secured the transfer of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal – who has been handed the number 7 shirt – and have now announced that Jose Mourinho has extended his contract at the club, keeping him in charge until at least 2020.
United enter their FA Cup fourth round tie at Yeovil Town with high hopes. Yeovil are the lowest ranked team left in the competition, sitting 21st in League Two, while United are unbeaten in their last 6 games in all competitions and remain in 2nd in the Premier League.
Friday’s fixture may well see the debut of Chilean star, Alexis Sanchez, although Jose is likely to not start his strongest side against The Glovers. United’s latest signing isn’t cup-tied due to him not playing in Arsenal’s game against Nottingham Forest, but I imagine he’ll make an appearance off the bench rather than straight into the starting 11.
Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Michael Carrick are all still out injured, while Daley Blind may also be excluded due to muscle problems. For Yeovil, midfielder and former United trainee, Otis Khan, will miss the game after receiving a five-match ban for shoving a referee last weekend.
This Friday could see landmark moments for both Ander Herrera and Jose Mourinho. The game could be Herrera’s 150th appearance in all competitions for United and will also be Jose’s 100th game in charge.
Although, despite United likely fielding a side much different to the one that beat Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor on the weekend, they still remain strong favourites.
The other fixture scheduled to take place on Friday night is Reading’s visit to Hillsborough to take on Sheffield Wednesday.
Both sides face similar fates in terms of league positioning, Reading currently sit 18th in the Championship, Wednesday in 17th. However, Wednesday are slight favourites to win the tie, having held 3rd place Cardiff City to a 0-0 draw in their last league game.
The Owls have also made a remarkable recovery in defence after a disappointing start to the season that led to the sacking of Carlos Carvalhal. The side’s new head coach, Jos Luhukay, leads his men into the fixture coming off the back of 4 consecutive clean sheets in all competitions.
However, they’ve failed to transfer these displays up front, having only scored two goals in their last four games. Meanwhile, Reading lost 1-0 away to Brentford in their last game, but beat Stevenage 3-0 to make it to the fourth round.
In Saturday’s games, firstly, Newport County play host to Tottenham Hotspurs in a mouth-watering tie for the Exiles. Newport have even installed a new stand at Rodney Parade to make way for the occasion, as they expect a sell-out crowd of 10,000.
The side – who currently sit in 8th in League 2 – have been known as the giant-killers of this season’s campaign, having upset Leeds United 2-1 at home to make it to the fourth round, thanks to a dramatic 89th-minute winner from Shawn McClousky.
Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino’s men have struggled to find their form of recent years in the Premier League, currently sitting outside of the top 4. In their last league game, Spurs were held to a 1-1 draw against relegation strugglers, Southampton.
However, news of Toby Alderweireld’s return to the squad after being out since November with a hamstring injury comes as a much-needed boost for the side. Despite this, Poch is expected to field a weakened 11 in Newport, likely featuring Fernando Llorente instead of Premier League top-scorer, Harry Kane.
County are not taking this chance for granted, and despite being the less-favoured of the sides to come out on top, they’re certainly determined to make it difficult for Spurs.
Two other Premier League sides who will also face each other on Saturday is Liverpool and West Brom. Jurgen Klopp’s men are going into the game off the back of a shock loss to bottom of the league, Swansea City, who broke Liverpool’s 18-game unbeaten streak across all competitions.
Meanwhile, West Brom themselves are struggling in 19th place, and are trying to finally find their footing after appointing Alan Pardew. Liverpool are still trying to fill the hole left by Phillippe Coutinho’s departure, with out-of-favour striker Daniel Sturridge also linked with a move away to Inter Milan.
Despite a rocky spell, Liverpool remain strong favourites to come out on top. The attacking prowess of Salah, Mane and Firmino will likely be too much for West Brom to handle, or most sides in the Premier League to for that matter.
Another clash between Premier League sides on Saturday sees league strugglers Southampton host semi-strugglers Watford.
Watford have recently appointed ex-Spain international, Javi Gracia, as their manager, replacing Marco Silva. Silva was relieved of his managerial duties after Watford believed he had lost focus ever since Everton approached him to be their head coach.
Southampton drew 1-1 with Spurs in their last game, and beat Fulham 1-0 to get through to the 4th round of the cup. Watford themselves beat a Bristol side who displayed a gutsy performance recently against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup to go through to the 4th round
Watford remain favourites to overcome Southampton to progress in the cup, despite a turbulent couple of weeks behind the scenes.
Elsewhere, recently rejuvenated Leicester City visit League Two’s Peterborough United. Claude Puel has worked wonders for the Foxes ever since he stepped in as boss, dragging Leicester all the way up to 7th place.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have benefitted massively from Puel’s appointment, re-finding the form of the unforgettable season that saw them lift the Premier League trophy. Historically, this fixture has swung in favour of Peterborough, who have won 5 of the last 7 games against Leicester at home.
Leicester themselves have had a rocky road on the way to the 4th round, beating Fleetwood 2-0 at home in a third-round replay.
In Wigan, the Latics host West Ham United, hoping to reach round 5 in the competition for the first time since their penalty shootout exit to Arsenal 4 years ago.
Wigan currently top the League 1 table, and made it through to the fourth round after upsetting AFC Bournemouth 3-0 at home.
West Ham themselves faced Bournemouth in their last league game, which resulted in a goalless draw. The Hammers narrowly escaped elimination from the cup, beating Shrewsbury in extra time to go through.
The magic of the FA Cup would suggest that Wigan have the momentum to triumph over David Moyes’ men. However, the Premier league star power of the Hammers may prove too much, especially with an in-form Marko Arnautovic in the fold.
Elsewhere, Premier League strugglers Swansea City travel to Notts County, hoping their recent 1-0 win at home to Liverpool will turn their season around. The Swans still sit at the bottom of the Premier League table, despite being level on points with West Brom.
Notts County currently sit 2nd in League 2, beating Brentford 1-0 away to get where they are in the cup.
Despite being odds-on favourites, Swansea City boss Carlos Carvalhal has re-iterated to the press that his main concern is Premier League survival, which could be the reason behind him possibly resting some key players on Saturday.
Another side struggling to find their feet in the Premier League is newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, who venture up north to Middlesbrough.
Brighton currently sit in 16th in the league, Middlesbrough 8th in the Championship. The Boro recently triumphed over north-east rivals Sunderland at home in a 2-0 victory to go through in the tournament, and beat QP3 3-0 at Loftus Road in their last league game.
Brighton’s poor form, leading to their recent 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea, means that Middlesbrough are bookies’ favourites to go through.
The last Premier League club in action on Saturday is Huddersfield town, who host Championship strugglers, Birmingham City.
David Wagner’s side themselves have struggled to replicate their earlier performances in the season, the form that saw them become the first team to break Manchester United’s unbeaten streak.
Huddersfield’s last game came in the form of a 2-0 loss at the hands of Stoke, meanwhile, Birmingham drew 1-1 at Preston. Despite going 6 league games without a win, Huddersfield remain favourites to go through to the next round.
The big Championship clash of Saturday sees Hull City host Nottingham Forest. Forest currently sit in 14th place in the league but have impressed on their journey to the fourth round, producing the biggest upset of the cup so far when they beat Arsenal 4-2.
Hull, on the other hand, haven’t enjoyed as successful of a season, currently sitting 21st in the league and losing to fellow strugglers Sunderland in their last game.
Nottingham’s away support this season has helped inspire results such as the one against Arsenal, and for the Hull game, Forest have already filled the 15% allocation allowed under FA Cup rules. Which will make it very hard for Hull to come out on top.
Sheffield United’s clash with Preston North End promises to be another tightly-contested match, both teams comfortably sitting in the top half of the Championship.
The Blades remain favourites to come out on top in the fixture, as Preston haven’t won a game since their 5-1 thrashing of Wycombe Wanderers to go through to the 4th round.
MK Dons also host Coventry City on Saturday, The Dons currently sit towards the bottom of the League One table in 21st, while Coventry are 6th in League Two.
Coventry beat Swindon 3-1 at home in their last league game and upset Stoke City at home to make it to the 4th round. Meanwhile, MK Dons lost 2-1 away to Northampton in their last league game, but still remain favourites.
The last of Saturday’s game sees Millwall host Rochdale. Millwall are heavy favourites in this tie, sitting 15th in the Championship while Rochdale are 23rd in League One.
Millwall beat Leeds United 4-3 in their last league game, while Rochdale have lost 5 of their last 6 games. The Lions beat Barnsley 4-1 to make it to the 4th round, while Rochdale’s 1-0 win at Doncaster in the 3rd round was the side’s only win in 6 games.
In the first of Sunday’s games, Cardiff City host Premier League juggernauts, Manchester City, in front of a sell-out crowd at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Cardiff will look to take notes from Bristol City’s admirable display against Pep Guardiola’s men in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, despite them being beaten 3-2.
The Bluebirds themselves have had their fortunes turn around following the appointment of Neil Warnock last season. The side sat in 2nd place the Championship for a while, but have slid down to 3rd after a rocky spell.
Unlike South Wales rivals, Swansea, Neil Warnock intends to field a strong side against the Premier League leaders, hoping to force a replay or even grab a win.
However, it’s hard to deny the remarkable form Man City are in, all the Bluebirds can hope for is to try and hold out for it to be 0-0 at half-time, to avoid the overwhelming comeback we’ve seen City execute so often this season.
The final game of the weekend sees last season’s Premier League champions Chelsea host Newcastle United. Antonio Conte’s side’s last game resulted in their exit from the Carabao Cup, following a 2-1 lost away to Arsenal.
Chelsea have drawn 5 of their last 7 games, only making it to the 4th round of the FA Cup on away goals. Newcastle’s last game was a 3-1 loss at the hands of Manchester City in the league and made it through to the 4th round thanks to a comfortable 3-1 win at home to Luton.
This season’s FA Cup campaign has already delivered in terms of the traditional magic we’re so used to seeing in the tournament, and this weekend’s fixtures have all the potential to carry the cup’s competitiveness into the next round.
From Premier League giants to teams who are reaching the 4th round for the first time in 41 years, all have an equal chance in progressing further in one of the country’s most prestigious domestic cups.