Game to watch – Sutton United vs Arsenal
Despite the FA Cup’s best attempts to make itself feel and look less than special, special has found a way. Despite the constant televising of Manchester United’s reserves, managers fielding understrength teams, the organisers spreading out each round across four days and a general feeling of third priority lethargy among Premier League clubs, Sutton United vs Arsenal is exactly the type of fixture that makes you glad that the FA Cup is alive.
It does not matter that Arsenal will surely win with ease. It does not matter that Sutton are charging season ticket holders up to £30 to get in. It does not matter that they have signed an agreement with Sun Bets to have the bookmakers advertising their shirts. None of it matters.
On Monday evening, plenty of Sutton players and plenty more supporters will enjoy the most memorable moments of their sporting lives. Don’t even pretend you aren’t going to watch.
Player to watch – Elias Kachunga
David Wagner is creating a minor miracle in West Yorkshire. Huddersfield Town, little Huddersfield Town, little old Huddersfield Town, pathetic little old Huddersfield Town (Ed – Are you sure you want to do this?) are third in the Championship table. Having suffered a mini-slump, and with it the assumption that they would fall back into the pack and struggle to make the play-offs, Huddersfield surged again. They are five points behind Newcastle and four behind Brighton, having won six games on the spin.
Huddersfield’s squad is littered with Wagner’s protégées. Eight of the club’s 11 most-used players this season arrived after his appointment 15 months ago, including each of the top four in that list. The player topping both the minutes played and goals scored lists is the perfect example of Wagner’s influence.
Elias Kachunga was signed on a season-long loan deal from Bundesliga side Ingolstadt. He is a former Germany Under-21 international, but had started just three times for the club in the previous season. For all the doubts about Wagner’s ability to adapt to the Championship, let’s not pretend that an English manager would have had the knowledge of the German leagues necessary to pluck such a striker. He has scored 10 league goals this season.
Now Kachunga is reportedly attracting interest from Everton, Middlesbrough and Watford. Shame Huddersfield were proactive enough to agree a £1.5m fee with Ingolstadt for his purchase at the end of the season when they get promoted to the Premier League. Clever dicks.
Team to watch – Fulham
Fulham have always been good fun. They had Keggy Keegan and Mohamed Al-Fayed, they had Chris Coleman and they had Michael Jackson statues and Felix Magath treating injuries with cheese when it all went south. All might not have been much fun for their supporters over the last three years, but they have always been a pleasant, friendly club. Craven Cottage is the type of ground – not stadium – that you would perhaps choose as the first away day for a four-year-old child.
Now Fulham are fun again, a mix of different nationalities and young players performing above expectations for Slavisa Jokanovic. They have won four of their last five games in all competitions, but have picked up a habit for being involved in exciting matches. Since a 0-0 draw against Wigan in September, Fulham’s 26 matches in all competitions have involved 86 goals, including two 3-2s, two 5-0s, a 4-1, a 4-2 and a 4-4 draw. Life is never dull by the Thames.
The make-up of Fulham’s squad is also fun. Jokanovic has used only one player over the age of 30 all season, 36-year-old Scott E. Parker. Sixteen-year-old Ryan Sessegnon has emerged as a wonderful prospect, and the club’s 15 most regular league starters are comprised of 11 different nationalities.
Faced with the task of stopping Tottenham, many Championship teams would look to keep it tight before trying to pinch a winner from a set piece. For Fulham, the thought doesn’t even enter their heads. That aforementioned 0-0 with Wigan was their only goalless draw in their last 72 matches.
Manager to watch – Arsene Wenger
Well who else could I really pick? I’m not going to trawl through the same arguments as earlier in the week (you can read them here and here), but there was a sizeable shift in Wenger’s mood after the crushing defeat to Bayern Munich. Arsenal’s manager talked of “mental collapse” but also had his press conference shortened to less than three minutes in length. Those journalists who have covered Wenger over the last 20 years remarked that they had never seen him so jaded. This time, finally, it really does look like the beginning of the end.
Arsenal will surely not struggle to beat Sutton, but this game will mark the start of a period in which Wenger’s every action and inaction is treated with added scrutiny. Having confirmed that a decision would not be made until the end of the season, we are waiting see whether this story really does end now. Does Wenger have the resolve to deal with the barrage he will receive from those who consider the manager calling the shots on his own future as a shambolic position for a supposedly elite club to place themselves in?
One-on-one battle to watch – Charlie Mulgrew vs Paul Pogba
I asked a former member of this parish, Blackburn Rovers fan and all-round super legend Matthew Stanger for a one-on-one battle and he picked Charlie Mulgrew vs Paul Pogba.
There are two possible problems with this:
1) Pogba may not play, after starting and impressing against St Etienne in the Europa League.
2) Mulgrew might not play in central midfield, a position in which he has started in only four of his 16 league games this season.
Was Stanger fobbing me off with an answer so he can get back to playing Football Manager badly? That’s not for me to say.
Instead, let me tell you my strongest opinion on Mulgrew: It would be wonderful to hear a commentary of one of his goals by Barry Davies that went “One.. *pause* two… *pause* Charlie Mulgrew! And you have to say that’s sublime.”
Football League game to watch
Well well, what a surprise. Despite Sky Sports not having any Premier League football to broadcast this weekend, there is also no Football League game for you to watch. Don’t worry though, you can watch Newcastle United’s 12th live league of the season on Monday evening. It’s like having a season ticket.
So I can’t help you. We really wanted to include this section to recommend which Football League action to take in on your weekends, but the only advice is to go to the game nearest you. Sorry Bradford vs Bolton, Burton vs Norwich, Sheffield United vs Scunthorpe, Coventry vs Gillingham, Doncaster vs Luton and Leyton Orient vs Notts County, but Sky don’t really care too much about your back stories.
Sky aren’t broadcasting a single League One or League Two game between January 5 and March 26. Now, who are Newcastle playing next weekend?
European game to watch
It might be the equivalent of Everton vs West Brom in the Premier League, but forgive me if Milan vs Fiorentina doesn’t conjure up memories of Batigol, Rui Costa, Paolo Maldini and Edmundo. Both sides might be down on their luck, but there’s still something special about this fixture. It’s the type of match that makes James Richardson walk through town with a strut like he’s wearing a new coat.
Milan are stuck in a cloud of mediocrity that threatens to make the memories of Maldini et al. nothing but a distant memory. Nobody is expecting them to be champions of Europe again, but that was only less than a decade ago. They haven’t even finished in Serie A’s top six since 2013. This is not a club for whom achieving fewer than 60 league points should be anything other than a catastrophe.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, are in danger of decline after one of the more positive periods in their history. They recorded three consecutive fourth-place finishes between 2013 and 2015, but after falling to fifth last season have slumped even further. They have been frustratingly inconsistent this season, beating Roma and Juventus but losing to Torino and dropping points at home to Genoa and Crotone. Their top league scorer is Blackburn Rovers hall-of-famer Nikola Kalinic, but don’t let that put you off.
The top three of Juventus, Roma and Napoli make up Serie A’s select group – although Juve merit their own level entirely – but both of these sides should hold ambitions of breaking that trio. Both are currently struggling to keep pace with Atalanta; how the mighty did fall.
Where is Mike Dean this week?
Nowhere. Nothing. As in f**k all. Come on Nelson, we’re leaving the FA Cup because the regime don’t like it baby. But seriously, the powers that be have issued an ultimatum upon Deano, and he has not been selected for FA Cup duty. That’s like trying to find the magic of the FA Cup and leaving David Blaine and Paul Daniels – or Mark Clattenburg, in this case – standing in the car park.
Ten live games to watch (because FA Cup weekends are ‘no outside’ weekends)
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC (Saturday, 8.50am, BT Sport 1)
Burnley vs Lincoln City (Saturday, 12.30pm, BT Sport 2)
Wolves vs Chelsea (Saturday, 5.30pm, BT Sport 2)
Sevilla vs Eibar (Saturday, 7.45pm, Sky Sports 5)
Bologna vs Inter Milan (Sunday, 11.30am, BT Sport 2)
Fulham vs Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, 2.00pm, BBC One)
Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United (Sunday, 4.15pm, BT Sport 2)
Roma vs Torino (Sunday, 5.00pm, BT Sport ESPN)
AC Milan vs Fiorentina (Sunday, 7.45pm, BT Sport 2)
SC Braga vs Benfica (Sunday, 8.15pm, BT Sport 3)
Writer to watch – Daniel Storey