Saturday February 18, 2012
Chelsea vs Birmingham City:
Chelsea will be on the hunt to redeem themselves from a defeat to Everton in the league. Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas is in hot water and is rumored to be under the scrutiny of owner Roman Abramovic. Chelsea’s hopes of Champions League football next season or making any real challenge for the Premier League title are currently being squandered by Tottenham and Arsenal. Chelsea are in 5th place, level on points with Arsenal and a whole ten points behind Spurs. The title is out of their reach, but all that stands between them and a spot in the quarter finals for the FA Cup is Birmingham City.
Birmingham suffered a drop to 5th place in the Championship after a draw with Hull City. Birmingham manager Chris Hughton is anticipating a challenging but good game at Stamford Bridge this weekend. “This will be a massive test but whichever way it goes, it is certainly one we will enjoy” he told Birmingham’s official website. One to watch will be American defensive player Jonathan Spector who played at center mid in Birmingham’s fixture against Hull City. His Premier League experience will be useful against a big club like Chelsea.
Millwall vs Bolton:
The London side Millwall feature in the Championship and are sitting low in the table in 20th with 31 points and -11 goal difference, even with Bristol City who sit one spot below them with -19 goal difference. They will rely on their English aging striker Darius Henderson, who is their top scorer with twelve goals to his name this season and their central midfielder Liam Trotter who has set up ten of the clubs goals so far and is a key playmaker. Millwall drew a point from their last league match at Brighton after the home side was able to score a late goal in the 88th minute to save their side from defeat. Brighton dominated, but Millwall opened the scoring in the 23rd minute and regained their lead after they let it slip in the 52nd minute but Kazenga LuaLua would slam home a free kick in the 88th minute to put the home side even again and sending Millwall home with just a point.
The Wanders are struggling at the bottom of the table, sitting just inside the tight relegation zone with 20 points, the point being the only difference between them and 16th place QPR. Manager Owen Coyle is ready to hand newcomer Tim Ream his first start since he came to the club at the tail end of the transfer window earlier this year. He told the club’s official site “I think it’s fair to say that Tim Ream will definitely be involved in the matchday 18, as will Ryo Miyaichi.” Bolton suffered another home defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic in the Lancashire derby. Despite a great goal from Mark Davies, a key player for the home side, put them back in the game they conceded just nine minutes later after some individual skill from Victor Moses. Bolton had more looks at goal than the visitors, but Wigan were able to convert their chances and Bolton left the fixture empty handed.
Despite Premeir League/npower Championship matches usually being one-way traffic flow, this match has the potential to be played out in the midfield. Mark Davies has proven to be a pivotal player in Bolton’s midfield while Millwall’s Liam Trotter has the same effect for his side. Bolton’s back four could be at a disadvantage if Ream struggles to find his boots since he has not played competitively since the conclusion of the MLS season but Millwall will surely be putting out their best and brightest. The strikeforces will need to make their shots count if either team wishes to progress to the next round.
Norwich City vs Leicester City:
The Canaries are coming off of a win at the weekend against Swansea. Norwich they have taken thirteen points from a possible eighteen from their last six fixtures, including a 0-0 draw against Chelsea in January. Their main strikeforce may be aging but their experience will be key. Steve Morison faced Leicester several times during his career at Millwall in the Championship and Grant Holt is no stranger to them either, facing them with Norwich before promotion this past season. Norwich’s Premiere League campaign has proven successful. They sit in 8th place well above the drop zone and although it’s safe to say that they may not see European football next season, they can set their sights on it in the 2012/2013 league season.
Leicester sit in 12th place in the npower Championship level on points with Derby County but a safe number of goals ahead. Striker David Nugent, who saw his career peak while playing for Portsmouth, will surely want to utilize his full striking ability. He leads the clubs goalscorers with twelve goals this season. Their last match against Watford on Tuesday was a 3-2 Valentine’s Day defeat and suffered the temporary loss of midfielder Danny Drinkwater (signed from Manchester United in January) who left the stadium on crutches and is undergoing scans to diagnose the problem with his foot.
The two sides are certainly not strangers since they have played each other in league fixtures after Leicester’s promotion from League 1 in 2009 and Norwich’s promotion to the EPL in 2011. With Drinkwater and key goalscorer Andy King sidelined for the fixture, Leicester will rely on some work from their forwards Jermaine Beckford and David Nugent while Norwich will hope that fan-favorite goalkeeper John Ruddy and top scorers Grant Holt and Steve Morison can earn them a favorable scoreline.
Everton vs Blackpool:
With Everton sitting mid-table, their only chance at silver wear will come from the FA Cup after Chelsea eliminated them from the Carling Cup in October. David Moyes will be wary of Blackpool when he picks his starting lineup, well aware of the threat from 38 year-old striker Kevin Phillips, who defies his age by still competing at the top level and scoring ten goals so far this season. Everton’s last defeat was to Tottenham back in January, but they are still unable to produce many three-pointers, drawing three of their last six fixtures against sides like Wigan and Blackburn where fans certainly expected better from a talented side. Their match against Chelsea last weekend showed the potential their side had. They defeated the Londoners 2-0 in an impressive display of tactical organization on their home turf, leaving the visitors scrambling towards the goal in disorganized transitions.
Blackpool sit in 4th place and have hopes of once again playing in the Premier League next season. They produced a 3-1 win at Doncaster on Tuesday after some tactical changes following a draw with Portsmouth. They had nine on-target shots to the visitor’s four and were able to convert three of them, Gary Taylor-Fletcher scoring two of the three goals to add to his seven goal season tally. Taylor-Fletcher was a key player to Blackpool’s Premier League campaign in the 2010/2011 season. Everton will be familiar with the threat he poses and will be sure to shut him down before he and his side can inflict any damage on their hopes of reaching Wembley.
Sunderland vs Arsenal:
Arsenal will surely want to revive their sinking ship after a disastrous week in the UEFA Champions League. They were annihilated 4-0 at the San Siro by a strong AC Milan. The two sides met each other last Saturday in EPL action with Arsenal the victor by a single goal so Sunderland will be out for revenge as they host the London side for the second time this month. The home side are at an advantage, not playing in Europe means they will be fresh and ready to go while Arsenal could suffer from fatigue, making the selections difficult for Arsene Wenger, who must also plan for the upcoming London derby against Tottenham. Sunderland have won four of their past six matches and are sitting comfortably in 9th place in the Premier League table.
With the FA Cup being both sides only potential chance for club silverwear this year (assuming Arsenal can’t come back from a 4-0 deficit against Milan) both sides will play to win. Much of the play will likely take place in the midfield as Sunderland has relied heavily on Sessegnon and McClean to bring in the points and Arsenal have relied on an in-form Robin van Persie who scored a hattrick in Arsenal’s 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers.
Crawley Town vs Stoke City:
Crawley Town manager Steve Evans spoke to the club website Thursday morning about his thoughts on the fixture, “We are all looking forward to what we all hope will be another fantastic FA Cup occasion for us.” Crawley Town is certainly not favorites to win. There is a two league buffer zone between Stoke and Crawley Town, who is sitting in 6th place in League 2. Their last match was an away defeat to Swindon Town where they conceded three goals and weren’t able to score any of their own despite holding the most possession and getting one more corner kick than the home side.
Stoke City is sitting in 13th place among a three-way point tie with the 11th and 12th place teams Swansea and Fulham. They are currently in a rut, losing four of their last six games by frustratingly low scorelines. Defender Ryan Shawcross will hopefully keep the Crawley Town attack at bay as he is in good form along with experienced goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. Towering striker Peter Crouch will use his FA Cup experience to add to the six goals he already has to his name this season.
Stevenage vs Tottenham Hotspur:
League One side Stevenage will host an in-form Spurs side, hoping to put on a good display at home in front of a sold out crowd. Stevenage is sitting in 6th place in League one with 48 points and a shot at promotion to the Championships. They have only conceded 11 goals so far this season, the same as first place team Charlton Athletic. Their last match was a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the league on Valentine’s Day, challenging their automatic promotion position as they sit in third place behind city rivals Sheffield United. Chris Beardsley put a header past Wednesday’s goalie Bywater to give Stevenage the lead and eventually all three points.
Spurs are coming off of a huge victory as they mauled Newcastle 5-0. Their six game record is blemished with a loss to league leaders Manchester City but it was a close match and Tottenham reacted the next weekend with a 3-1 win at Wigan. Gareth Bale’s outstanding form will certainly be a threat, if the Welshman is even given any playing time, and Spurs solid back four will be a force to reckon with. Outside defender Benoit Essou-Akotto scored Tottenham’s first goal in the match last weekend, so they will not rely on their strikers or attacking midfielders to get a satisfactory scoreline. Spurs veteran goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini is wary of the threat of lower league teams in the FA Cup. He told the Spurs website, “In the FA Cup, there’s no such thing as an easy game. We need to be in top form on Sunday, and it’s another step towards Wembley.”
Liverpool vs Brighton and Hove Albion:
Liverpool is entangled in controversy at the moment as striker Luiz Suarez continues to make a scene over the accusations of his racist comments against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Despite a thrilling game last weekend at Old Trafford, all of the focus was on Suarez as he refused to shake Evra’s hand before the match and got into a bit of a scuffle in the tunnel at halftime. It is known to anyone who watches the Premier League that Liverpool is struggling to find goals, so if Brighton are able to break through an EPL-strength defensive backline and score early on, they could get away with sitting tight and holding off the likes of an out-of-form Andy Carroll and club leading goalscorer Craig Bellamy. The Welshman has been in good form recently but still only has six goals this season.
Having already been knocked out of one competition by Liverpool in the Carling Cup at the start of the season, they know it will be no easy match and that the odds are heavily against them. The last match the two played out ended 2-1 to Liverpool, not a comfortable win for the Merseyside team. William Buckey and Craig Machail-Smith both have seven goals this season, more than any of Liverpool’s strikers, but Brighton’s defense have conceded 33 goals while Pepe Reina has conceded ten less but Liverpool’s attacking forces have been unable to make the saves count. Brighton drew their last match at the expense of Millwall as substitute LuaLua came on to smash home a free kick and capitalize on the match they dominated. Brighton sit in ninth place in the Championship and dropped below Middlesbrough after the draw.