The fourth-round draw has spoiled us somewhat, with the best two teams in the country going head to head on Friday, before Wrexham aim to bring the magic to the FA Cup…
Game to watch: Manchester City v Arsenal
It would be nice to park the Premier League on FA Cup weekend but the draw makes that impossible on Friday night when the top two go head to head for the first time this season.
Leaders Arsenal go to champions Manchester City and Mikel Arteta has a conundrum. Maximise momentum and go as strong as possible against his former club? Or rotate and heighten the risk of elimination, but at least preserve the morale that might be lost if the Gunners’ finest were to fall at the Etihad?
For Pep Guardiola, it’s rather more simple. The City boss has a far stronger squad at his disposal and for him to field a weakened team would involve a wholly unnecessary volume of changes to his XI, especially given the opportunity to strike a blow, albeit relatively minor, in the title race.
Arteta will probably attempt to strike a delicate balance having admitted this trip to see his pal Pep is a ‘defining’ moment for both sides. For the rest of us – regardless of the impact this meeting has for the rest of the season and both sides’ grander plans – it ought to be a fascinating tie in its own right: the two best teams, playing the best football in the country, going head to head.
And you know they will lock horns, rather than circle each other or either retreat. Arsenal have scored in every Premier League away game this season, while City have bagged in each home assignment. So it certainly won’t be cagey. And it will probably have ramifications beyond a place in the fifth round of the cup.
Team to watch: Wrexham
Big though City versus Arsenal is, if it’s cup magic you want on fourth-round weekend, The Racecourse Ground is probably the place to go. And the Beeb are taking us all there on Sunday afternoon.
Sheffield United’s trip to the National League leaders absolutely reeks of upset. But, of course, Wrexham aren’t your standard non-league minnows these days. Not since they were bought by a couple of Hollywood stars who, contrary to initial scepticism, have barely put a foot wrong since taking ownership almost two years ago.
And it hasn’t been an easy ride for Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The end of the first full season of their stewardship saw them lose out on automatic promotion and suffer a similar fate in a frantic play-off defeat to Grimsby. The National League is a b*tch to get out of but Wrexham have just reached the summit once more after winning at Gateshead and they welcome the Blades, themselves flying high three divisions above the Welshmen, in fine form having won their last six.
That included a dramatic 4-3 win over Coventry that prompted Reynolds to ask ‘what the f*** is happening?’. The answer to that in the long term remains unclear but it’s absolutely compelling viewing along the way. The latest episode on Sunday promises to be must-watch.
Read more: Welcome to Wrexham, where celebrity ownership follows years of decline and false hope
Manager to watch – Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp takes charge of his 1,001st match back at the scene of his 998th and one of the worst of his managerial career. Liverpool cannot be as bad as they were at the AmEx a fortnight ago. Can they?
The Reds have stopped the rot somewhat in the meantime, easing through a cup replay at Wolves before a goalless stalemate with Chelsea that served to highlight why both clubs are languishing in mid-table. Which is something of an improvement as the last time they were on the south coast, they played like relegation fodder.
It’s hard to state how bad Liverpool were in that 3-0 defeat and Klopp made no attempt to dress it up as anything other than the utter sh*tshow it was. His apologies to the travelling support were generally well received but it was a tough watch for many Reds to see such humiliation in place of Klopp’s customary fist-pumping.
Liverpool could see this fourth-round tie as a chance for atonement, but such has been the contrast between them and Brighton of late, it might not matter how much improved the Reds are if Brighton maintain some of the form they’ve shown under Roberto De Zerbi.
Surely the Seagulls won’t be allowed to pillage Liverpool’s engine room as they did a fortnight ago? The gaping hole in Liverpool’s midfield has been obvious all season and it doesn’t look likely to be filled before the transfer deadline, so Klopp is having to mend and make do. Fabinho and Jordan Henderson found themselves on the bench for the visit of Chelsea last week. Will Klopp offer them the chance to redeem themselves, or will he stick with Stefan Bajcetic, who could be a big part of Liverpool’s future, and Naby Keita, who almost certainly won’t be?
Player to watch: Arnaut Danjuma
The Netherlands forward has half a season to earn himself a permanent move to Tottenham, starting with an FA Cup trip to Preston on Saturday.
Danjuma has already been in the north west this week, when he was expected to sign for Everton. The deal was agreed and the player, content the Toffees were the best of some bad options, had already done his bits for the club’s media department. Then Spurs dialled his digits, and fancying the Champions League rather more than a relegation scrap for an as-yet-unnamed manager, Danjuma darted back to London to sign for Antonio Conte. A “no-brainer” indeed.
It’s a savvy move for Conte too. Danjuma can cover through the middle if he’s not needed to play off the left and bolsters a Spurs squad that has suffered from attacking injuries this term. The 26-year-old fancies himself – “It’s fair and factual to say I’m among the best wingers in the world,” he stated in April – but arrives in north London with something to prove having struggled to catch fire at Bournemouth in the way he did at Villarreal.
The trip to Deepdale offers Conte the perfect chance to bed in the new boy before the visit of Manchester City next week.
EFL game to watch: Charlton v Bolton
One EFL game on the box this weekend and it comes from Charlton where Dean Holden’s Addicks take on fifth-placed Bolton.
Holden is in the process of turning the Addicks around, which was necessary amid a toxic atmosphere at The Valley prior to his arrival. Now, though, they are on a run of three wins to begin a push for the play-offs.
While preparing to take on the Trotters, Holden spent part of this week chatting to former 365-er Daniel Storey, and the result is very much worth your time, regardless of whether you’ve any intention to tune in on Saturday lunchtime.
European game to watch: Real Madrid v Real Sociedad
Napoli against Roma looks enticing too so maybe your Sunday night is best spent flicking between that and the battle of second versus third from La Liga.
After winning five league games on the bounce, Sociedad can feel confident of pulling level with the champions by leaving the Bernabeu with three points, while leaders Barcelona watch closely after their Catalan derby against Girona on Saturday.
Sociedad are closer to Barca than the side below them, Atletico in fourth place. A sixth consecutive win opens up the possibility of a three-way title scrap in Spain instead of Real and Barca slugging it out between themselves.