Our reporters foresee Sir Alex Ferguson's side picking up a win at Anfield, and expect the Gunners to bounce back from their defeat to the champions last SundayThis weekend we take a break from the usual hustle and bustle of the Premier League as attentions switch to the FA Cup fourth round, with places in the fifth round up for grabs.
The two ties that will undoubtedly draw much of the focus will be played on Saturday as Manchester United travel to Liverpool, the first time Patrice Evra and Co. have played at Anfield since that infamous afternoon back in October, while Chelsea visit QPR.
Awaiting John Terry’s side at Loftus Road will be a just as frosty welcoming from the home fans as the England defender will come face to face with Anton Ferdinand, the player he is alleged to have racially abused when the sides met in the Premier League, with probably just as much betting being concentrated on their potential handshake as the match itself.
Elsewhere on Saturday, there are two all Premier League affairs as Paul Lambert’s Norwich City travel to the Hawthorns to face West Brom, a fixture the Canaries won 2-1 exactly two weeks before, and Bolton host Swansea City at the Reebok Stadium.
The day's evening kick-off will see Brighton take on Newcastle United at the Amex Arena, while there are two fixtures played on Friday night with Tottenham heading to Championship side Watford, while Fulham travelling to Goodison Park hoping their horrendous League record at Everton doesn’t convert to the Cup, having never picked up a top-flight win at the Toffees.
The weekend’s action concludes on Sunday as a north-east derby takes shape at Sunderland, with Middlesbrough the guests, and the inconsistent Arsenal look to forget their league woes after three consecutive defeats when Aston Villa visit the Emirates.
As always, our reporters will be at the matches, providing you with first-rate coverage, but first comes the test of their foresight as give their predictions for what promises to be a gripping FA Cup fourth round weekend.
JAY JAFFA says...
It only began on Monday but Harry Redknapp's tax evasion trial has already become the most talked about court case in football. We don't know how his absence from the training ground has affected his squad but we do know that the Tottenham manager will be picking the team.
Nonetheless, Spurs travel to Vicarage Road with a rich history in the FA Cup and will be hoping to secure the necessary win to send them into the fifth round and perhaps more importantly restore confidence after the cruel defeat at Manchester City.
Sean Dyche's Watford team have encountered a worrying blip lately, with only the cup win over Bradford sparing the blushes that three consecutive Championship defeats had forced. History dictates it will be a difficult evening for the Hornets and while an away win seems a safe bet, the fixture should at the least pack the stadium.
SAM BISBY says...
Fulham’s Premier League history against Everton on Merseyside will not play kindly into their hands, with the London outfit defeated in each of the 10 times they have appeared at Goodison Park in the current top-flight platform.
However, we all know the FA Cup sets a completely different premise for any team and the Cottagers will be up for dumping the Toffees out of the competition in their own back-yard.
David Moyes’ side have seen their neighbours Liverpool continue in their own cup success this week, booking a place in the League Cup final with Cardiff after disposing of Manchester City, and the Scotsman will be hoping to emulate such a result to advance in a tournament they haven’t reached the final hurdle in since 2009, with their last triumph back in 1995.
A pretty even game is expected, but the hosts haven’t been exactly firing on all cylinders, whilst their opponents for Friday night are coming off the back of an extravagant win over Newcastle and should have the edge where it counts.
GREG STOBART says...
This was the draw both clubs would have dreaded after the Luis Suarez race row - and the only guarantee on Saturday will be hostility on and off the pitch between these two great rivals.
Patrice Evra can expect to be given a particularly difficult afternoon from the Liverpool fans but, once the game kicks off, the focus will be on what’s happening on the pitch.
Reaching the League Cup final was a huge achievement for Liverpool and the challenge for Kenny Dalglish’s players will be to play with the same intensity just three days after getting past Manchester City. I don’t expect Craig Bellamy to be able to feature because of his knee troubles and even the most avid Liverpool fans will admit Andy Carroll, his expected replacement, is in wretched form.
United will be the fresher side - although they have plenty of injury concerns - and I think that could make the difference as these sides face each other at this stage of the FA Cup for the second season in a row.
These are the sort of games that players, fans and journalists alike look forward to the most. At the end of a critical week for Liverpool, they renew hostilities with their most bitter rivals, with the relationship between the clubs at an all time low.
They will dread the prospect of a replay - especially with a league clash at Old Trafford around the corner - and I have a sneaky feeling United will edge to a narrow victory.
JOEL LAMY says...
It’s most definitely a case of déjà-vu at the Hawthorns this Saturday with West Brom and Norwich City fronting up just two weeks after their last meeting - a 2-1 win for the Canaries. Once again the Baggies played well at home but they seem unable to finish teams off and have managed to acquire a losing habit.
The same cannot be said of the visitors, who have lost just one of their last nine matches and even kept their first clean sheet of the season last weekend against Chelsea.
One issue will be whether both managers look to rest players with midweek fixtures coming up and whether there will be the same pressure of a regular league encounter, thus allowing for a more open match.
With no points up for grab, I’m backing West Brom for their fourth home win of the season albeit after a tight match.
ALEX FISHER says...
Pass and move used to be the Liverpool groove but that mantle appears to have been handed over to Swansea City as they set all kinds of records for their passing accuracy and because of this, watching the Swans is something I’ve been looking forward to all season
Bolton have had a troubled first half of the season but their morale boosting victory over Liverpool should make this game a real hum-dinger as the Trotters will be keen to repeat their feats in the FA Cup from last season.
I anticipate a close game, but expect to see Leon Britton and Joe Allen control the midfield, while the pace of Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer will cause Bolton all kinds of problems.
So a victory for the high flying Swans and Brendan Rogers’ side in the hat for the fifth round draw on Sunday afternoon.
JAY JAFFA says...
The obvious tone to this FA Cup clash will be the hangover from the accusations levelled at John Terry following Chelsea's October loss at Loftus Road. Although a joint statement from both clubs moved to warn supporters that any form of discrimination will lead to punishment, no-one should expect the ferocity of the rivalry to placate.
Mark Hughes can call upon new defensive reinforcements after the signings of Taye Taiwo and Nedum Onuoha as he continues to reshape the squad he inherited from Neil Warnock. The fans have been buoyed by the managerial change and will be dreaming of an unprecedented second FA Cup win.
The pressure on Andre Villas-Boas has dissipated in recent weeks following a steady run of form but the goalless draw at Norwich last week and the despairing form of Fernando Torres offer the game a narrative that is inescapable. A win at a notoriously tough venue for Chelsea will be just the tonic.
JOE DOYLE says...
Newcastle have been absolutely flying this season in the Premier League, but as the old cliché goes, anything is possible in a Cup tie. There have been some difficulties of late for Brighton, who looked to be running away with the league early on in the season but now sit in 10th place - still a very respectable spot for a team only promoted into the division last season.
It will be interesting to see what sort of team Alan Pardew puts outs for the match with games against Blackburn and Aston Villa coming up. Brighton can take some heart in their opponents' previous game however, when they shipped five goals in the second half to Fulham.
It'll be a tough game for the Magpies as they face off against the Seagulls in a battle of the birds, but I can see them pulling through with the undoubted quality of the side they possess this season.
ROB STEWART says...
They say that the romance of the Cup has gone but it is alive and kicking in Sunderland, where the Black Cats fans are thinking this might be their chance to grab a trophy the club won in such famous circumstances in 1973 against then mighty Leeds United.
The arrival of alchemist Martin O’Neill has got the fans dreaming of silverware again on Wearside because he has galvanised a squad of players who were looking like relegation fodder under Steve Bruce but can now think of Wembley.
Despite being handily placed thanks to canny management from Tony Mowbray, Middlesbrough have over-achieved so far this season following club owner Steve Gibson’s cut-backs at the Championship club so Sunderland should progress.
Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole, who came through the ranks at Boro before being sold by Gareth Southgate, can show everyone how much he is maturing under O’Neill by maintaining his discipline at the end of a week when he has been talking up his England prospects.
| Aston Villa
WAYNE VEYSEY says...
What lies in store for Arsene Wenger? This promises to be one of the most significant themes on Sunday as cracks continue to appear in the Frenchman's once watertight relationship with supporters.
There was real venom in some of the criticism directed at Wenger in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester United defeat, a third successive league setback.
The FA Cup represents Arsenal's best hope of ending their trophy drought and Wenger is likely to take it more seriously than he often has in the early rounds by picking a full-strength team.
It will be fascinating to see if there is an initially apologetic air at Emirates Stadium or if the tension of last weekend is replicated.
||2 CORRECT 0 PERFECT 8 WRONG
A very poor week for our reporters last time out as eight got their predicted score correct and not a single one foresaw a result. Here's hoping for a big improvement over FA Cup with weekend, with our men at the grounds looking to avoid slipping up on a fourth round banana skin.
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