Premier League Clubs Navigate FA Cup Fourth Round 2016
A year ago, by the time the fifth round of the 2014/15 FA Cup rolled around, only three heavyweight Premier League clubs had survived the eliminations. Those three teams—Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United—had managed to avoid an upset-ridden fourth round that had sent Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton (among others) packing. Arsenal went on to win the tournament, beating Aston Villa in the finals for a second consecutive FA Cup trophy.
This year, things could hardly be more different. Most of the football clubs to qualify for the round of 16 in the 2015/16 FA Cup are big names from the Premier League. The fourth round of the tournament—played this past weekend, in place of regular league competition—saw Arsenal, both Manchester teams, Chelsea, Everton, and Crystal Palace all earning spots in the final 16. Furthermore, most of those soccer clubs won big in their fourth round matches, paving the way for what should be a more competitive FA Cup battle than what we saw last season.
There were three four-point victories on the table during the fourth round of the FA Cup—all tying for the biggest win of the round.
Manchester City steamrolled Aston Villa 4-0, thanks to a hat trick from Kelechi Iheanacho and a finisher from Raheem Sterling. A 19-year-old striker from Nigeria, Iheanacho has been underused by Man City since joining the senior squad last year. Expect that oversight to be rectified after his star-making performance this weekend. Since the Sky Blues also won big in round three (beating Norwich City 3-0), they have to be considered potential front-runners for this year’s FA Cup title.
Also earning a four-point win were Chelsea, who beat the Milton Keynes Dons 5-1. The match, which saw Oscar scoring three goals before halftime, should give the Blues a nice boost of confidence as they continue to rebuild from their fall 2015 troubles. Unfortunately, Chelsea are set to face Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. Only one of these two big winners, then, has a chance of reaching the finals.
The third big winner of the week was second-tier club Reading, who beat Walsall 4-0. The margin of victory was impressive, but Walsall were also one of the tournament’s few remaining third tier competitors. In other words, don’t count on Reading to put together a Cinderella story type of run over the next few rounds.
Also skating through to the next round are Manchester United (3-1 against Derby County), Arsenal (2-1 against Burnley), Tottenham Hotspur (4-1 over Colchester United), Everton (3-0 at Carlisle United), and Crystal Palace (1-0 against Stoke City)—among others.
For the most part, this round was devoid of major upsets or big losers. The teams that were expected to win did so, and the teams that were expected to lose lost. However, the three football clubs listed below probably constitute the biggest losers of the round:
- Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s big arrival in English football continues to disappoint. The Reds needed two games to dispatch Exeter City in the third round of the FA Cup, after drawing 2-2 in their first match with the fourth-tier soccer club. To be fair, Liverpool had a tougher opponent this time around in the form of West Ham United. But the club’s failure to score a single goal—even on their home turf at Anfield—is troubling. Will the Reds be able to prevail in the replay match? Or will an early FA Cup exit be the latest sign of another disappointing season for Liverpool FC?
- Aston Villa: The Lions are going to have to start showing strength or momentum soon if they are going to avoid Premier League relegation. Last season, reaching the FA Cup final was one of the lone bright spots in the campaign for Aston Villa. The football club’s surprising success in the FA Cup also presaged their late rally to escape the red zone in the EPL. While the Lions will now be able to divert their full focus toward the Premier League, flaming out of the FA Cup in a four-point loss—and at their home stadium, no less—was the worst possible way that the elimination could come about. Will the already-battered soccer squad be able to handle this latest hit to their confidence?