Top four take centre stage in FA Cup

Posted by Jon Molyneux-Carter

FA Cup trophy GettyImagesThis season's FA Cup has thrown up a great draw.

The FA Cup does it again. Just when you think that the old dog is beat and there is no life left in it, you get a draw for the fifth round that pits the top four teams in the Premier League against each other and gives one of the lesser lights a real chance of making the final at Wembley in May.

Tottenham and Manchester United may have been missing after their early failures, but tentative predictions for the 16-team round had the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton hoping for one of the big boys.

It wasn't to be. The two landed each other while the first three ties were enough to suggest that the fifth round on the weekend of the Feb. 15-16 will be the pick of the bunch in this season's competition.

-FA Cup draw: Man City vs. Chelsea, Arsenal vs. Liverpool

As good as the fixtures are for the neutral, for some of the teams it couldn't be worse. Arsenal, in particular, will face a huge test of their title credentials and strength in depth. With Manchester United and Bayern already on the calendar, a tie against Liverpool sandwiched tightly in between was not what Arsene Wenger would have wanted.

Last summer, a cheeky 40,000,001 pound bid wasn’t enough to pry Luis Suarez away from Anfield, but a similar sum may now be spent on Schalke's Julian Draxler to ensure that the Gunners' fight on all fronts can continue apace (even if he would not be eligible for the final stages of the Champions League).

After a less-than-convincing 2-0 defeat of Bournemouth, Liverpool may also look at the tie against the top side in England as something they could have done without. With hope on Merseyside strong that the club can go far into the title race and perhaps end the season with silverware as well, Brendan Rodgers' side will host the Gunners in the league a week or so before their cup tie, facing the prospect of a double blow to their hopes if they don't match up. Lay down a marker in that league game, however, and the lack of European football to take the attention away may be something of a blessing as the FA Cup arrives in between the less troublesome tests of Fulham and Swansea. Wenger may have other things on his mind by then.

Of course, the first tie out of the hat was arguably the most exciting. City -- all 110 goals of them in all competitions -- host a Chelsea side that have been more successful in the FA Cup than anyone in recent seasons, with four trophies in the past seven years.

The City machine has been purring in recent weeks. A glut of goals has somewhat masked a defensive deficiency that Watford threatened to expose for the first half of their game Saturday, but Manuel Pellegrini, too, will have other things on his mind.

Sunderland at home offers little concern given their form at the Etihad, but the might of Barcelona and Lionel Messi travel to Manchester on Feb. 18 and Pellegrini has the more pressing concern in the aftermath of their FA Cup tie. Chelsea aren't in action against Turkish side Galatasaray until Feb. 26 and can prepare for their clash with relatively little distraction after a trip to West Brom and a home tie against Everton.

Therefore, it was of little surprise when Blues manager Jose Mourinho showed little emotion when asked about the tie following the 1-0 win over Stoke.

"No problem. If you want to be the best, you have to play against the best, so it's good for us," he told ITV. "One team is the end product. One team needs to improve and has a long way to go. Good experience, good game, big game."

One feels that after the fifth round is complete, we will have a much clearer idea of who is the best in England.


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