The Betfair Contrarian: Why the FA Cup won't be won by a Big Four team
Last year the Contrarian correctly declared that the Big Four's twelve year domination of the FA Cup would come to an end. If you decided not to listen then, make sure you don't make the same mistake this season, because the Contrarian sees the Big Four more vulnerable than they have been for many seasons, and is expecting another another unfashionable team to lift the cup.
The guard changed last season
In 2005-06 and 2006-07 none of the Big Four were knocked out by teams outside the top-flight and just two were eliminated by sides other than one another. 2007-08 marked a change in that only Arsenal were knocked out by a fellow Big Four side (Manchester United) while the others were all humbled by the outsiders. Portsmouth eliminated Manchester United at Old Trafford while it was Championship side Barnsley who eliminated Liverpool and Chelsea.
The trend has continued in the Carling Cup
In the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Carling Cup competitions, Manchester United were the only Bg Four side eliminated by Football League opposition but this season the gulf in class has narrowed in the Carling Cup to the same extent as was noticeable in last season's FA Cup. Arsenal, who had never in Premier League history been eliminated by lower league opposition, went out to Burnley as did Chelsea, who had only once in the previous eleven seasons been eliminated by a team from a lower league. This is the first time in eight years where there has been more than one team from outside the Premier League in the competition's semi-finals.
Tottenham are a great cup team
Despite only winning nine league matches since their Carling Cup triumph last February, Spurs remain a great cup team. This season they are still going strong in the UEFA Cup and have reached the semi-finals of the League Cup for the third year running. In 2008 they have knocked three of the Big Four out of cup competitions - Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - while this season they are unbeaten in five meetings against Big Four opposition, showing they are capable of getting a result against any of them on their day. They are also now managed by last season's FA Cup winning manager Harry Redknapp.
There could be some early upsets
At first glance the Big Four appear to have easy draws having avoided Premier League opposition but their opponents all enjoyed reasonable success in last year's competition. Arsenal's opponents Plymouth reached the quarter-finals two years ago and cleared the third round again last year. Chelsea's challengers Southend have got through the third round in each of the last two seasons, including last year when, like this, they had to start from the first round. Liverpool travel away to Preston who have won their way through to the fifth round for three years running while Manchester United go to Southampton, who also reached the fifth round last year and have cleared the third round for four years running. Sir Alex Ferguson's side have also lost five of their last eleven away games against the Saints and were of course eliminated by South Coast opposition last season.
While the best of the rest have reasonable draws
Eight time winners Tottenham (a tally only bettered by Arsenal and Manchester United) host Wigan, who have only once beaten Premier League opposition in the FA Cup while seven time winners Aston Villa are away to a Gillingham side that have failed to score in their three home cup matches this year. Holders Portsmouth host Bristol City, who went out to the first Premier League opposition they faced in their last two campaigns and haven't won consecutive away games since August.
A Carling Cup run hampers Manchester United's chances
On the last three occasions that Manchester United have reached the final four of the Carling Cup, they have failed to win the FA Cup. The last time they won the FA Cup after enjoying a lengthy League Cup campaign was in 1993-94, a season where they were already eliminated from the Champions League before the group stage.
Read More UK & Ireland Football
If history tells us anything, Juan Mata's ghost goal probably won't bring about the introduction of goal-line technology, so instead of bleating about it, here are more of those moments that get managers spitting blood......
Ralph Ellis considers the reasons why Roberto Di Matteo is proving a huge success at Chelsea just a year after being dumped on the managerial scrapheap......
In an exciting encounter Chelsea are through to the FA Cup final but that's not the full story. If you don't know anything about it you soon will. Mike Norman explains....
There was a come-from-behind win for Liverpool over Everton in the FA Cup whilst Manchester City looked like the side that took the Premier League by storm at the start of the season, as they romped to a 6-1 win...