Mark Young takes a look at who’ll come out on top over this weekend of football which sees the FA Cup semi-finals and crucial matches at both ends of the Premier League table.
FA Cup semi-final: Everton 0-2 Manchester United
Saturday evening’s FA Cup semi-final has Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United go head-to-head with Roberto Martinez’s Everton.
It’s been a sticky week for the Toffees as they have to bounce back from a 4-0 hammering against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby on Wednesday night.
Everton’s task will be difficult enough already on Saturday but stumbling blocks have been placed in front of the struggling Blues boss as Gareth Barry was taken off injured, John Stones was subbed off ill and Ramiro Funes Mori was banned for a horror challenge to Divock Origi on Wednesday.
On the other hand, United eased to a 2-0 victory at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday as they picked up their 17th clean sheet of the season. Wayne Rooney has had playing time under his belt and United look ready to kick on and make it to a showpiece final despite van Gaal being under extreme pressure.
The youth and exuberance of the Red Devil’s emerging stars in Rashford, Martial and Lingard combined with strength in defence can see United through.
FA Cup semi-final: Crystal Palace 1-0 Watford
Crystal Palace and Watford are dreaming of an FA Cup final but they will have to go through each other first in a repeat of the 2013 Championship play-off final.
It was different for both clubs then in terms of direction and people in charge but a similar result could be in the offing.
Both Alan Pardew and Quique Sanchez Flores rested players for their midweek games and both lost by a couple of goals, but the former admitted that they had the distraction of Wembley on their minds.
Yannick Bolasie and Scott Dann were missing midweek but are expected to return, with Bolasie given a week off after scoring a late equaliser at the Emirates last Sunday.
Watford’s striking double show were left out of the starting line up against West Ham. Though Deeney came on only to miss a penalty, his partnership with Odion Ighalo has been terrific all season.
It took an extra time Kevin Phillips penalty to beat Watford three years ago at Wembley and it could well be by a similar margin this year. Bolasie is Palace’s key man and if he’s on form, a narrow win in 90 minutes beckons for Pardew and his side.
Sunderland 2-1 Arsenal
Sam Allardyce and Arsene Wenger renew their long-standing rivalry on Sunday as the Gunners travel to the North East to face an upbeat Black Cats side.
Sunderland were great in their 3-0 win at Norwich last week and have momentum going in to their battle for survival – and it would be just like Big Sam to pile more misery on Arsenal.
Arsenal were disappointing in drawing with Crystal Palace a week ago but downed West Brom on Thursday night before travelling to Sunderland. While Gunners’ fans can be pleased coming off of the back of a 2-0 win, they could still find themselves under pressure for a top four place after a busy week.
Ex-Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe could do the damage against Arsenal as a season that promised so much looks set to under-deliver for one North London side.
Leicester City 0-0 Swansea City
The twist that the season has been waiting for happened last weekend as Leicester drew with West Ham, but they have the chance to put that right against Swansea on Sunday.
Jamie Vardy was sent off for a second bookable offence against the Hammers and will certainly miss Sunday’s crunch contest, if not more, and that’s a real blow for Claudio Ranieri and his Foxes side.
Leicester’s game is built around the pace of Vardy getting in behind defences and, although effective, Leonardo Ulloa does not offer the same guile as his striking counterpart.
Swansea will sit deep, knowing all the pressure is on the Foxes. Francesco Guidolin is a shrewd tactician and may add another crack or two to the chances of Leicester’s fairy tale coming true.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
Tottenham have the bit between their teeth and may well have an opportunity to be even closer to Leicester City come their contest on Monday night.
West Brom travel to White Hart Lane and if last Monday is anything to go by, Spurs are unlikely to give up the ghost just yet.
Their impressive 4-0 hammering of Stoke City coupled with the circumstances of Leicester dropping points meant that Mauricio Pochettino’s side could sense an opportunity and they grabbed that with both hands.
From front to back, Spurs are formidable and at full strength. They certainly look like a side that are unlikely to give up on chasing Leicester down until it’s too late. Whether it’s to keep the five-point gap or to make it smaller, Spurs will continue their terrific form and will still be in with a shout with three games to play.
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