Big Midweek: Everton v Boreham Wood, Burnley, Conte, Kepa

Ian Watson
It's a big Midweek for Kepa, Burnley and Antonio Conte.

Boreham Wood are certain to enjoy their Big Midweek but the FA Cup offers big opportunities for Everton, Tottenham and Kepa. In the Premier League, it’s huge for Burnley…


Game to watch – Everton v Boreham Wood 
The FA Cup fifth-round draw hasn’t thrown up many mouth-watering clashes so to Thursday night’s David versus Goliath clash we go…

National League Boreham Wood, the only non-league side left in the competition at the last-32 stage, go to Merseyside to take on Frank Lampard’s Toffees in front of a sell-out crowd at Goodison Park.

Despite having won at Bournemouth in the last round, it’s a tie that that the third-placed side in the National League apparently cannot win.

“Can we win?” asked manager Luke Garrard after the draw, before answering his own question: “No.” That’s that then.

Nor can Everton really. Anything other than a heavy victory will invite more scrutiny of Lampard’s early reign, though the opportunity to forget their Premier League woes for a night will doubtless be one to relish.

And Everton’s troubles in the league don’t warrant one-eyed focus for the rest of the season, even if they could be in the bottom three come kick-off, since the 40,000 inside Goodison haven’t seen their side win a trophy since 1995. A cup run is an easy win for Lampard while he gets his feet under the table and, on one-off occasions – as they showed against City on Saturday – they can match anyone.

Of course, consistency is their great concern. But that can move to the back-burner for an occasion that epitomises the FA Cup, with Everton’s opponents absolutely determined to enjoy their big night under the lights and before the TV cameras.


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Team to watch – Burnley
While the FA Cup takes centre stage during the week, the Premier League hogs some of the limelight with Burnley hosting Leicester on Tuesday night in another huge game at the congested foot of the table.

The Clarets will have another go at rising above the cut-off line in the relegation zone with the carrot being the chance to climb three places – above Everton, Leeds and Brentford – to 15th. Given they looked dead and buried last month, it would be further evidence that a Great Escape is gathering momentum.

And it’s one based in the traditional Burnley ethos of being hard to beat. Wout Weghorst has enjoyed a bright start to his Clarets career but the biggest improvement has come in defence. Burnley have conceded just three goals in the last seven games and they have lost only once at home in the Premier League since September 18.

That said, they’ve only won twice at Turf Moor all season, with an inability to turn six draws into victories keeping them rooted in the drop zone. The same happened at Crystal Palace on Saturday, though a rearguard action and an own-goal equaliser made it a point that Sean Dyche was more than willing to take.

Three points has to be the target against a struggling Leicester side on Tuesday night when Burnley can make a big statement in the relegation battle.


Player to watch – Kepa
As Chelsea’s cup keeper, Kepa will be back in the sticks in midweek after a disastrous cameo at Wembley at the weekend.

The Spaniard’s status as a penalty-saving expert saw Thomas Tuchel introduce the world’s most expensive goalkeeper in the final moments of extra-time for the shoot-out. Twenty-two spot-kicks later, half scored by Liverpool, the last of which skied by Kepa, Tuchel probably wished he hadn’t bothered.

A calamitous outcome for Kepa came just as he was starting to rebuild his reputation after deputising creditably for Edouard Mendy during the No.1’s absence at AFCON. There’s very little likelihood that Kepa would ever displace Mendy, but the former Athletic Bilbao stopper has a move to play for, and Chelsea need to provide a shop window if they are to claw back as much as possible of their failed £72million investment.

Kepa’s next chance to shine and atone for the latest mistake of his Chelsea career comes on Wednesday at Kenilworth Road where Championship play-off contenders Luton will be looking to pile the misery on Chelsea after a fraught weekend.


Manager to watch – Antonio Conte
The Tottenham manager was in a better mood on Saturday in the wake of the 4-0 win at Leeds, with Conte seeing the first signs that his message might be getting through to a group of players for whom he seems to have very little time.

His contentment, though, came with a warning. “This has to be a starting point for us and not only an episodic game.”

Spurs’ next examination comes on Teesside, where Championship play-off hopefuls and Manchester United’s conquerors Middlesbrough await. With six days until their next Premier League fixture, there is no reason for Conte to rotate heavily for a competition that should be one of his main priorities, one in which he has fine pedigree.

Which means there is no excuse for Spurs not to build on the dismantling of Leeds. After his comments in the last week and his intensity at Elland Road even while 4-0 up against a side pleading for the sweet release of the final whistle, two steps back following one forward won’t be tolerated by Conte, even if Boro in front of a sold-out Riverside promise a tougher test that Bielsa’s beleaguered Leeds.


EFL game to watch – Cardiff v Derby
Only one game in the Championship this midweek, but it’s a biggie…

More so for Derby. Cardiff may only be two places above the bottom three but a recent resurgence has seen the Bluebirds open up a 13-point gap between themselves and the drop zone.

The Rams, though, remain ensconced in the relegation places after their own resurgence was halted by a run of three defeats in four games. Wayne Rooney’s side remain seven points off safety with the Cardiff clash one of three games left in the 12-match run-in against sides in the bottom six.

Derby’s revival from a 21-point deduction has been one of the stories of the EFL season but their recent woes, including five successive away defeats in all competitions, are threatening to waste all their fine work.


European game to watch – AC Milan v Inter
It’s also cup week on the continent, with Copa del Rey, Coupe de France, DFB Pokal and Coppa Italia ties taking place.

The semi-final of Italy’s cup competition offers the most tantalising prospect, with another Milan derby taking place at the San Siro. The last, in Serie A, went Milan’s way, reigniting the title. Two draws in the last two matches against bottom-half opposition have threatened once more to derail their challenge so Milan need the confidence boost that beating the Nerrazzuri would bring, especially ahead of the trip to table-topping Napoli at the weekend.

Inter are flopping even harder. They have won just one of their last six in all competitions and haven’t won a Serie A match since January 22. They haven’t scored a goal for 313 minutes.

So this first leg between two floundering derby rivals may not be must-win, but it is must-not-lose for both sides.