By Neil Leverett
- It’s Emirates FA Cup fourth Round weekend, with teams vying for a berth in the last 16
- Holders Manchester City entertain Premier League-chasing Fulham, as neighbours United face tricky tie with Tranmere Rovers
- Brentford host Leicester City, Slaven Bilic reunites with West Ham for Championship leaders West Brom and Bournemouth and Arsenal meet at the Vitality
EMIRATES FA CUP – With the place in the last 16 of the oldest cup competition in football at stake, we take a look at the pick of the ties in the Emirates FA Cup fourth Round.
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Brentford vs Leicester City (Saturday, 12:45)
We kick off our Round four Emirates FA Cup pick of the ties at Griffin Park, as Brentford host Leicester City in arguably one of the most attractive of all the sixteen match-ups that came together during the draw earlier this month.
Whilst the Foxes returned to Premier League winning ways in midweek with a 4-1 thumping of West Ham, the hosts themselves are now sniffing a place in the automatic promotion spots from the Championship, to join Brendan Rodgers‘ men next season in the top flight.
The Bees boast one of the most dynamic and menacing attacks in the second tier, with Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo having fired the West Londoners into the top six.
With just five points separating themselves and an again faltering Leeds United in second, this is Brentford’s chance to impress and show their promotion credentials against the fleet Foxes.
Jamie Vardy is set to miss out for the visitors after sustaining injury against the Hammers and in the wider picture, there is just the small question of how serious a priority Thomas Frank‘s men see this, with the distinct possibility of at least a play-off semi-final to come in May.
The expectation is however, that both sides will field strong XIs here, and with a heavy dose of vibrant and offensive play in their respective make-ups, Saturday lunchtime’s opening clash should set up the remaining three days of domestic cup action in fine style.
West Ham United vs West Bromwich Albion (Saturday, 15:00)
The most intriguing tie of fourth Round takes us to the London Stadium, as Slaven Bilic returns to East London to face former employers West Ham United, with his own West Bromwich Albion sitting pretty at the top of the Championship.
Current Irons steward David Moyes was the one who took over the West Ham reins with the Croatian’s dismissal in November 2017 and as the two managers meet again, just four places separate the sides in the football league pyramid.
Whilst the journey to steer the hosts away from the drop zone has begun in small stages, the Baggies have stormed up the Championship standings in recent weeks and months, and led by a strike force of Charlie Austin, Hal Robson-Kanu and Kenneth Zohore – all with top flight experience – West Brom have been pushed on further this term by Hammers loanee Grady Diangana and the exciting Brazilian playmaker Mateus Pereira.
Bilic’s time at West Ham was rather soured at his dismissal, but the 51-year-old will still be sentimental on his return to the capital. With the hosts struggling for goals however, West Brom and Bilic may well be eyeing a top flight scalp and place in the last 16.
Manchester City vs Fulham (Sunday, 13:00)
In our third Premier League versus Championship clash, attentions switch to FA Cup holders Manchester City, and with the league title set to be relinquished Pep Guardiola‘s men face another of the higher-flyers from the second level of the English domestic game in Fulham.
The last time the two sides met in the FA Cup was over a century ago in 1914, and whilst their three most recent meetings took place in the Premier League – with the Cityzens scoring nine times home and away without conceding – the hosts’ form this term has had more than the odd wobble.
That will give Scott Parker‘s Cottagers hope here, however the continued absence of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is blow for the West London side. But as Crystal Palace showed only last weekend, the home side are far from imperious.
Again, with all three clashes between their lesser-league opponents, there is the threat of considerable rotation, but that could be the case for City also. With Fulham third in the Championship, their position is far from a false one and whilst most expect Guardiola’s men to be safely in the hat come Monday night, the visitors may just make this tie more interesting than many expect.
Tranmere Rovers vs Manchester United (Sunday, 15:00)
The FA Cup wouldn’t be the FA Cup without a hint of romance and the odd potential banana skin, and if there is to be what would be a mammoth upset in Round four it could come at Prenton Park on Sunday, as Tranmere Rovers play host to Manchester United.
In something of a North-West derby, Micky Mellon‘s Whites come into the game fresh from inflicting a first defeat on Nigel Pearson‘s as Watford boss, after Tranmere dumped the Hornets out of the Cup only days ago on Merseyside, with an extra-time 2-1 win via Paul Mullin‘s 104th-minute winner.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s visitors meanwhile continue to stutter in the Premier League, with a 2-0 loss to Burnley the latest blot on the Red Devils’ 2019/20 rap sheet on Wednesday night. A trip across to M62 therefore could present further discomfort for United.
This will be just the third time in their histories the two sides have met in a competitive and whilst a 3-2 home win in the FA Trophy would not have raised too many eyebrows last month, a successive defeat against the senior United side would make a seismic impact.
With Marcus Rashford out and the visitors in disarray, the League Two side will welcome their more illustrious and storied opponents with open arms. However, as the hand of fate approaches for the hosts, Mellon’s men may just be sniffing an almighty cupset.
AFC Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Monday, 20:00)
The fourth Round concludes on the South coast with an all-Premier League meeting, as AFC Bournemouth meet the record winners of the FA Cup in Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium.
Despite their position in the relegation zone, the Cherries come into this buoyed after a much-needed 3-1 league victory over Brighton as the hosts ended a four-game goal drought – with Callum Wilson also ending his own personal one of over 1000 minutes of game-time.
Arsenal showed their fighting spirit with a rousing ten-man 2-2 draw with Chelsea in midweek, but without the services of the suspended David Luiz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gunners will have a task on their hands to reach Round five next month.
Mikel Arteta however has already stated the importance of the FA Cup not only from a personal perspective, but for the North Londoners as the side who have won the famous trophy the most times – on a total of 13 occasions.
Only a week ago this could have been quite a cagey affair, with the visitors in particular having tightened up the ship – with the two sharing the league spoils on Boxing Day in a 1-1 draw when they last met. However, on the back of the past seven days, this final tie of the Round looks on paper to be quite a tasty affair.
The Emirates FA Cup fourth Round begins on Saturday lunchtime, as Brentford host Leicester City, kick-0ff 12:45 UK time.
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