Two top clubs start the FA Cup fourth round but who will get to the final?
The Soccer Boffin's weekly dose of betting wisdom
Another will go tonight. Manchester City and Arsenal, second and first in the Premier League, play in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
One elite club went out in the third round. Chelsea, going through a rough patch, lost at City. They probably would have lost anyway.
City against Arsenal could have been a wonderful final. One of them must take an early exit. The other could lift the trophy. They are the sort of clubs who nearly always do.
Twenty-four times in the past 27 seasons the FA Cup was hoisted by one of these five clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. Arsenal won eight times, Chelsea seven, United four, Liverpool three and City two.
Twelve times one of them was beaten in the final – Chelsea five times, United three, Liverpool two, Arsenal and City one.
Those five clubs represent most of the elite of English football and they have dominated the FA Cup.
Non-elite clubs have had their moments, though. Leicester, Wigan and Portsmouth won the cup while Pompey got to another final. Crystal Palace, Everton, Hull, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Stoke, Watford and West Ham were runners-up once, Aston Villa and Newcastle twice.
All those clubs were in the Premier League when they appeared in the final. Newcastle were a non-elite club then but are an elite club now. They are third in the Premier League and have one foot in the final of the EFL Cup. Next season and beyond they will be serious contenders for the FA Cup.
Twice in those previous 27 seasons the losing FA Cup finalists came from the Championship: Cardiff and Millwall. Could there be an EFL or even a non-league finalist this season?
Only 11 Premier League teams have reached the fourth round, an unusually low number. This is partly because in the third round there were an unusually high number of all-Premier League ties and partly because an unusually high number of Premier League teams lost to opponents from the EFL.
On average in previous seasons 14 or 15 of the 20 Premier League teams reached the fourth round – three had been knocked out by Premier League rivals and two or three by opponents from the EFL.
This season in the third round, five Premier League teams were beaten by Premier League opponents and four by opponents from the Championship, League One or League Two. The first group comprised Brentford, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton and Wolves, the second group comprised Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Nottingham Forest.
Only once in the previous 27 seasons were there as few as 11 Premier League teams in the fourth round. That was in 2007-08 and in that season there were three Championship teams in the semi-finals and one in the final.
There had been four all-Premier League ties in the third round. There had been five in 2003-04 when 13 Premier League teams reached the fourth round, two Championship teams reached the semi-finals and one reached the final.
The luck of the draw can influence the fate not only of individual teams but also of whole divisions. Chelsea would probably be in the fourth round if they had not drawn City in the third. City and Arsenal might both have reached the fifth round if they had not drawn each other in the fourth. And the chance of a non-Premier League finalist is higher now than in most previous seasons.
But not by much. Still the most likely outcome by far is that there will be two Premier League teams in the final. Who might they be?
Well, who is left? Of the elite teams there are Arsenal, City, Liverpool, United – and Tottenham, members of that set who have not reached the final in recent seasons. Of the non-elite teams there are Brighton, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Southampton and West Ham.
In the past the non-elite teams who reached the FA Cup final most often were those who were doing well in the Premier League. This season the non-elite teams who have been going well week-by-week are Brighton and Fulham.
One of them, though, has a bad fourth-round draw. On Sunday Brighton play Liverpool. And in the past the differences were quite small anyway. Any non-elite Premier League team are capable of getting to the FA Cup final if they have good draws or play well on the right days. Will one of them get there this season?
Often the FA Cup final has been contested by two elite clubs. It happened ten times in the previous 27 seasons. More often, though, the final pitted an elite Premier League club against a non-elite Premier League club. That happened 15 times. City against Arsenal could have been a wonderful final. So could Brighton against Liverpool – and that sort of fixture is more representative of the FA Cup final.
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