The draw for the FA Cup quarter finals was made on Saturday night, and once again the big boys were all kept apart.
We don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories about the Football Association wanting to guarantee a high-class final by using ‘hot balls’ in the draw, and instead will put the fact that the two Manchester sides and Chelsea have been kept apart as a statistical anomaly.
Anyhow, it might be reckless to write off their last eight opponents; Chelsea’s trip to Leicester, for instance, looks less than a gimme by anyone’s standards.
The outright betting market has moved as a consequence, so here is how the FA Cup runners and riders are shaping up:
Manchester City (15/8)
If Pep Guardiola’s men can get past Wigan tonight then they will enjoy an eminently-winnable tie against Southampton on home soil in the last eight.
His side will not rest on their laurels, of course, but with the league title all but sealed – and one foot in the Champions League quarter finals already thanks to a 4-0 win over Basel in their last 16 first leg, Guardiola can afford to pick a strong side against both the Latics and the Saints.
It sets up the chance of an outstanding quadruple, given his team play in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, and a slice of history that the Spaniard will not want to miss out on.
The good news for him is that his squad is so deep that he can rotate his side without diminishing quality too much, and with minimal injury concerns at the moment Manchester City are well poised to enjoy a trophy-laden three months or so. These odds of 15/8 are simply too good to ignore.
Manchester United (4/1)
Jose Mourinho is well-known for targeting domestic cup competitions: he has lifted equivalent trophies to the FA Cup in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and of course has gotten his hands on the FA Cup and the League Cup in his time in England.
It is unlikely that his side will win the Champions League, and so finishing in the top four – and winning the FA Cup – will e considered a decent enough campaign by those hard-to-please United fans.
So don’t expect the Red Devils to take this competition lightly, and a home tie with Brighton in the quarter finals gives them the perfect chance to advance to the last four – no offence to Seagulls fans, of course.
That 4/1 price looks generous on paper, but they could still have to face Chelsea and Manchester City prior to lifting the trophy; that has been built in. We wouldn’t fancy them to beat either of those two teams in a one-off match, either.
Chelsea are a slightly longer price than United because their quarter-final assignment, an away trip to Leicester, is more difficult than the test facing Mourinho’s men.
The Blues reached the FA Cup final last season, won the League Cup in 2014/15, the Europa League in 2012/13 and both the FA Cup and Champions League in 2011/12. This is a club designed for knockout tournament success.
The trip to Leicester is a tough one, undoubtedly, but if they can get a draw at worse then they would be expected to beat the Foxes at Stamford Bridge. At that point, the tournament becomes a lottery, and if they can avoid Manchester City in the semi-final draw those 5/1 odds would suddenly look very long….
For our money, the absolute value lies with Tottenham at a titillating 5/1.
They will surely beat Rochdale in the fifth-round replay, and then a quarter-final with either Swansea or Sheffield Wednesday will hardly fill them with dread.
Much will depend on the progress of Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the Champions League: every round they progress diminishes their chances of lifting the FA Cup trophy, as Poch will be forced to play a weakened side in this ‘lesser’ competition.
But one ace he does have up his sleeve is that Wembley has been his side’s home for the past six months – and they’ve taken to it rather well (W9 D4 L1 in the league). There will be no big match nerves for his boys; it will simply feel like another day at the office should they reach the semis and/or final!
Leicester City (14/1)
According to the bookies, Leicester are the second best-backed team at the prices behind Manchester City, so there is clearly plenty of support for the Foxes on the betting floor.
But you wonder if those punters really have a handle on how betting value works. Picture the scene: they beat Chelsea in the quarter final at 3/1, then draw Manchester United in the semis. What price would they be then? 4/1, perhaps?
Let’s assume they beat United and then face Manchester City in the final. Now they will be priced at 5, maybe even 6/1!
The point we’re making is that if you fancy Leicester to win the FA Cup, betting on them to win their three matches would be a far more profitable pursuit than taking the 14/1 available.
Firmly entrenched in the Premier League’s relegation zone, the FA Cup is a mere distraction for a Southampton side in real danger of slipping out of the top flight.
Their potential route to FA Cup glory could be Manchester City-Chelsea-Manchester United, and so we really can’t have any interest in their hopes.
Even if it did happen, it would be no consolation if they were relegated.
The Rest (50/1 Bar)
You just can’t see any of the remaining sides in the competition being able to beat three high-class opponents from here-on-in.
Rochdale would have to beat FOUR decent sides to lift the trophy, as would Sheffield Wednesday who face a replay against Swansea, so they can be discarded.
Brighton face a trip to Old Trafford in their quarter-final, while the Swans – assuming they soar past the Owls – would then need to beat Tottenham just to reach the last four.
There really are better investments for your cash than any of these outsiders!