The oldest domestic knockout competition in the world is coming to its conclusion and, this weekend, both FA Cup semi-finals are being played out.
Manchester United take on Chelsea at Wembley Stadium and it’s going to be hard to split two sides who are in solid form in the Premier League.
It is hard to take one's eyes off a thrilling top-four race in the Premier League table at the moment, with Chelsea in third and Manchester United in fifth separated by just one point, but that is what both clubs must do this weekend with Wembley awaiting.
The lure of an FA Cup semi-final will make it easier to do so, with the trophy playing a major part in the history of both of these clubs and it remains their most realistic chance of silverware this season - despite both still being involved in European competition too.
These clubs have been involved in some memorable FA Cup meetings in recent years. The head-to-head stats show Man Utd have nine wins over Chelsea in the FA Cup with the Blues claiming five victories and two games ending in a draw. Sunday will be the fourth meeting of the season involving these teams and it’s worth remembering Man Utd carry a 100% record so far.
Manchester United were put through a tough outing by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace in their last fixture, but goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial ensured that the Red Devils came away with all three points. The Blues will also be bouncing into this one having won their previous fixture against already relegated Norwich City and now find themselves a point clear of Manchester United and Leicester in third.
United’s back four has largely remained unchanged since their first fixture back, against Spurs away from home. They have had a couple of forgettable moments, with Spurs’ Steven Bergwijn and Southampton’s Michael Obafemi punishing United’s defensive mishaps. The quintet of goalkeeper David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw has, however, largely been solid. United have been devastating at the other end of the pitch, too, thanks largely to the verve and creativity provided by Bruno Fernandes and the ruthlessness of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood in front of goal.
Chelsea have been poor defensively during the same period, conceding nine goals, the most by a team in the top half of the Premier League table. Lampard has rotated his defensive personnel in recent matches, with his first choice left-back Marcos Alonso and central defender Antonio Rudiger starting the away fixture against Sheffield on the bench. But the Chelsea manager is expected to name his strongest XI, including Alonso and Rudiger, for the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United.
Man Utd possible starting lineup:
Romero; Dalot, Bailly, Maguire, Williams; Matic, Fred; James, Pogba, Rashford; Ighalo
Odion Ighalo started as the centre forward in United’s last two FA Cup fixtures, against Norwich City and Derby County, and rewarded his manager with a brace against Derby and by opening the scoring for United at Carrow Road. It’s possible that the Nigerian will keep his place in the starting XI against Chelsea, with Solskjaer having to decide between Greenwood and Martial to start on the right of United’s front three.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Caballero; James, Tomori, Christensen, Emerson; Barkley, Jorginho, Mount; Loftus-Cheek, Abraham, Hudson-Odoi
For Chelsea, Willy Caballero will slot in between the posts and the back four against Norwich could be retained. With Kante ruled out, Jorginho is likely to play at the base of midfield. Tammy Abraham could replace Olivier Giroud and lead the line.
Manchester United have been in vain form since the Premier League restart and whilst stats can point towards a Man Utd victory, the beauty of the FA Cup means nobody can be certain of the outcome for this one. For that reason, I'm going to go for a cagey affair, as I believe both teams will be sharp defensively, but i'm still going to go for a United win in extra-time.
Score Prediction: Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea (AET)
Match Preview written by Jordan Hall