1 Derby v Manchester United: ‘Fourth sacking’ will have to wait
As Louis van Gaal continues his transition into Michael Douglas’s William Foster in Falling Down, the Dutchman has claimed that he could well be sacked for a ‘fourth’ time if Manchester United were to lose at Derby County under the iPro Stadium’s Friday night lights.
This is a fixture which can be filed firmly under ‘tricky’ for the visitors, although that particular part of the cabinet has been pretty full of late.
However, solace can be found in a run of just two points from five games for a Derby side who have let standards slip in recent weeks as they’ve tumbled from the top of the Championship. They might score, but the concession of seven goals in their last two games suggests that they’ll concede as well.
Manchester United to win with both teams scoring – 4.50
2 Colchester v Tottenham: Clichés can only get you so far
They’ve shipped 65 goals in their 28 league games this season – 11 more than any other Football League team – and haven’t kept a clean sheet since September, but Colchester United can forget about being seven points adrift of safety in League One for an afternoon at least.
With the visit of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur comes a sense of occasion and the opportunity to test themselves against one of the very best in the country, and a team taking the competition very seriously judging by their impressive third round replay win at Leicester.
Expect the hosts to be plucky, determined and other such FA Cup clichés, but ultimately they are going to lose.
Tottenham to score over 2.5 goals – 2.23
3 Arsenal v Burnley: An afternoon of auditions
Euphoric one minute, melancholic the next. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge?
Arsene Wenger seems to have settled on a fairly small group from which to pick his players for league matches, but fixtures such as this clash with Burnley offer the opportunity for several of his squad members to make a case for inclusion.
Expect the likes of Gabriel Paulista, Tomas Rosicky and January signing Mohamed Elneny to be involved against the Clarets, who might just find that the fringe players’ desire to impress Wenger proves too much for them.
Tomas Rosicky to score and Arsenal to win – 5.60
4 Aston Villa v Manchester City: De Bruyne loss places spotlight on Sterling
Nine goals at this stage of his debut season at Manchester City is a pretty good haul for Raheem Sterling, but there remains the belief that he could be doing more.
The loss of Kevin De Bruyne for the next 10 weeks places even more of an onus on the Englishman, who faces a cup final date with former club Liverpool next month and a tricky tie against a somewhat resurgent Aston Villa here.
The fact that the third round tie with Wycombe Wanderers went to a replay means that Remi Garde can now proudly point to a five-game unbeaten run for the hosts, and after midweek exertions and that De Bruyne blow, Sterling and co might see that extend to six here.
Aston Villa to win or draw – 2.23
5 Crystal Palace v Stoke: The roads to Wembley are blocked
Less than a week on from Stoke seeing one route to Wembley closed off, their motivation to make progress down another will be severely tested at Selhurst Park.
With both sides somewhat floating around in the middle reaches of the Premier League table it is difficult to know which one would benefit more from a cup run, although most eyes here will perhaps focus on the bench and the sight of Palace’s new arrival Emmanuel Adebayor.
If he can quickly get up to speed when he comes on, then Stoke – weary and wounded from their Anfield experience – could be exiting two cup competitions in a matter of days.
Crystal Palace to win – 2.05
6 Nottingham Forest v Watford: Hornets could get lost in the Forest
Incensed at the concession of a 96th minute winner to Brentford’s Philipp Hofmann back in November, Nottingham Forest have refused to countenance defeat ever since, with their unbeaten run now stretching to 13 matches.
They’ve only conceded once in their last five, too, ensuring that it will be a confident home side who welcome a Premier League outfit that they’ll barely recognise from their days together in Championship.
Watford’s season has been hugely impressive, but such is the mindset of a thoroughly modern manager, an FA Cup run won’t be high on Quique Sanchez Flores’s agenda. If he take his eye off the ball then the home side could pounce.
Nottingham Forest to win – 2.85
7 Portsmouth v Bournemouth: The war on the shore
The 2008 FA Cup win and largely forgotten 2010 final appearance against Chelsea will doubtless be recalled when Portsmouth fans gather before this clash at Fratton Park, and it almost seems as though Saturday’s opponents have completed a role reversal in the intervening years.
It is Bournemouth who arrival at the home of the League Two promotion hopefuls as the big boys with the big wages, hoping to dodge the famed banana skins as they do so.
Pompey beat Ipswich in the last round after a replay, though, and they can put up a stern test here.
Both teams to score – 1.85
8 Liverpool v West Ham: The great unknowns
If anyone outside of Jurgen Klopp’s Melwood office can correctly predict the Liverpool starting XI for this one then your next prediction might as well be Saturday night’s lottery numbers.
Steven Caulker will surely start for the Reds after a mixture of emergency centre-forward cameos and being frustratingly cup-tied, whilst Joe Allen deserves a go in central midfield and Christian Benteke will probably take his usual FA Cup place upfront. After that it’s anyone’s guess.
What we do know, though, is that West Ham have soundly beaten the Reds on both occasions they’ve faced them this season, and with the prospect of a hat-trick to motivate them, expect goals.
Over 2.5 goals – 1.94
9 Carlisle v Everton: Floods of fears for visitors
There is a strong suspicion that most Everton seasons are just previous ones stuck on repeat. Look impressive, get some good results, struggle for consistency, get some bad luck, then start again.
After an unfortunate Capital One Cup exit just as a Wembley date with Liverpool was in sight, there will be some trepidation as the Blues head to a Carlisle United side who seem destined to provide one of the stories of the fourth round.
After the floods which devastated the region in December have been cleared, they return for just their second game at Brunton Park since it was basically underwater.
Sink or swim? Well if they can stay afloat in the game for the first half then a replay is possible.
Draw – 4.70
10 MK Dons v Chelsea: Business as used to be usual
Battling, clinical, upsetting Arsene Wenger. It seemed as though the old Chelsea were back at the Emirates Stadium last weekend, and the old Chelsea used to breeze through fixtures such as these.
Serial swatters of lower league sides en route to a Wembley final, in years gone by there wouldn’t even have been a question that the Blues would win this clash against the struggling MK.
With Guus Hiddink surely seeing this competition as his best chance of short-term glory (as he achieved in 2009), then no chances will be taken with his selection, and the fifth round should await.
Chelsea to win without conceding – 2.00