FA Cup Betting: Can Everton get past Tevez?
Long gone are the days when the Cup provided the likes of Houchen and Sanchez with a ticket to football immortality - now, managers are more likely to use the competition to rest stars, ease injured players back or give squad members a chance to prove themselves, says Ralph Ellis.
Time was that being the star of the FA Cup was a ticket to football immortality. Think of Ricky Villa, wriggling his way through Manchester City's defence for one of Wembley's all time great goals; Or what about Keith Houchen whose diving header for Coventry that beat Spurs in 1987 means he's still a local legend?; Go even further back and there was Ian Hutchison's whirling long throw that set up Dave Webb's winning goal for Chelsea against Leeds in the Rollerball replay final of 1970.
Those days are gone. Have a look down the list of this weekend's Cup stars and you'll find a fair sprinkling of the second string being given a game to either help them back from injury or keep them happy.
Eduardo helped ease Arsenal into the quarter-finals with a fairly straightforward win over Burnley at The Emirates. The Croatian had already started his comeback from the horror injury that might have ended his career with two in the delayed replay against Cardiff. It's a fair bet he'll be rested from Wednesday's Champions League trip to Roma and maybe even Saturday's Premier League clash with Blackburn. But come next week's delayed quarter-final against Hull and he's likely to play. All of which makes him value at [5.1] to be the competition's top goalscorer this season - probably more so than Robin Van Persie who is [3.65] and also on three goals so far but is more likely to be kept for the bigger games. Yesterday against Burnley he was only a sub for the last 30 minutes in the Gunners' fairly routine 3-0 win.
Both of them are just one goal behind Nicolas Anelka, who is currently [2.12] favourite for that particular honour which is poor value, when you consider he has at most two more games to play. In comparison he has a three-goal advantage in the race to be Premier League leading scorer but is a longer price at [2.58].
Manchester United made light work of a 4-0 win at Craven Cottage on Saturday night, with Carlos Tevez collecting two goals. The first was a scruffy header which rather undermined Fulham's reputation for mean defence under Roy Hodgson. The second was an absolute stunner from 20 odd yards. But then some eight of the 11 goals the Argentinian has scored this season have come in Cup competitions of one sort or another and he'll more than likely be on Fergie's team sheet for the semi-final against Everton in April. He's also the sort who'll relish a big Wembley occasion and doing his bit to prove he should have a permanent move to Old Trafford and is [6.6] to be FA Cup top scorer.
Portsmouth might have given the old trophy a bit of excitement last season by being the first winners from outside the big four in 17 seasons. But one look at last night's semi-final draw tells you normal service is being resumed. Chelsea were always in charge as they won 2-0 at Coventry who will have to go on living on their 1987 legends. Everton might have stumbled for a while as they went a goal down to Middlesbrough, but there was little doubt they'd come back as Gareth Southgate's side wilted under a fierce second-half onslaught.
It's now [1.11] that a Big Four team wins the trophy again. Hull, more worried about avoiding relegation, are likely to rest anybody with minor knocks against Arsenal - leaving David Moyes side as the only team with even a remote chance of stopping the big boys. They are somewhere between [3.25] to back and [4.8] to lay to get to the final with United - and Tevez - in their way.
Sir Alex Ferguson is clearly now tickled by the idea of a historic five-timer. And he's got the resources to deal with all the different fixtures as well as a seven point cushion - plus a game in hand - in the Premier League. The next hurdle is massive - Wednesday's night's home leg in the Champions League with Inter Milan. United are [1.76] the home win but given Jose Mourinho's record I'd want at least even money.
The Cup made it an odd weekend with only five games involving top flight clubs, but Tottenham's 1-1 draw at Sunderland in the Premier League was significant. Robbie Keane began the season thinking he'd be a hero by winning things for Liverpool. His last minute equaliser suggests he could end it by being the man who keeps Tottenham in the top flight. Spurs, who took just two points from their first eight League games, are now only two points off the top half and as long as [17.0] to be relegated. It might not put Keane alongside Ricky Villa in the club's glamour hall of fame - but this year it will be far more significant.