The Premier League takes a backseat this weekend, as the eight remaining teams in the FA Cup look to book their spots at Wembley for the semi-finals.
Some intriguing quarter-final matches were plucked out of the hat too. Two of the most illustrious names in English soccer will go head-to-head in the tie of the weekend, while two local rivals will also vie for a spot in the last-four.
On the domestic front there are a couple of potentially thrilling matches from Spain and Italy, while Major League Soccer also gets back underway this weekend, with one particular standout clash between two debut franchises.
All kickoff times are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid
Carlo Ancelotti’s men will looking to get back to winning ways after their draw with Villarreal last time out, but a clash with Athletic Bilbao at the new San Mames never represents an easy task.
Real Madrid remain top of the pile in Spain after their 1-1 draw with the Yellow Submarine at the Santiago Bernabeu, but it was a disappointing performance from the league leaders. Indeed, Marcelino’s men rested a host of key players for this particular match, but they still created chances aplenty against a ponderous Los Blancos XI.
That draw means that Barcelona are now just two points off the summit and a win for them against Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou would see them overtake Real should they fail to win in the Basque country. But you suspect Ancelotti will have the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema all of much sharper focus for this match.
Bilbao are currently languishing in mid-table and are very unlikely to threaten the European spots with 13 games to go. But they always seem to put up a fight when the biggest teams in the land come to town and with their raucous set of supporters behind them, expect a tough 90 minutes for the European champions.
Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion
Saturday, March 7, 12:30PM, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2GO
These two Midlands rivals played out an enthralling encounter in the Premier League in midweek and they’ll go head-to-head again this weekend, this time in quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Ben Foster’s string of errors helped gift Tim Sherwood’s team an enormous three points to lift Villa out of the relegation zone, with Christian Benteke’s composed late penalty sending Villa Park into raptures. After such a dramatic victory, it’ll be the home side who have the most momentum coming into this one.
But the Baggies can take heart from certain segments of their display. In the first half they absorbed a lot of what Villa had to offer and they grew into the contest after Saido Berahino’s equalizer. Had it not been for an array of crazy moments from their goalkeeper, they would have taken a well-earned point back to the Hawthorns.
The late kick-off will only serve to stir what should be a gripping atmosphere even more and a potential place at Wembley for either side represents a major incentive. As such, expect another enthralling night of action at Villa Park.
Napoli vs. Internazionale
The race for the title in Italy may well be over after Roma failed to beat Juventus last time out, but the battle to finish in the Champions League spots represents a very intriguing side-plot. Both Napoli and Inter will be hopeful of landing one of those coveted berths come the end of the campaign.
Admittedly, for Roberto Mancini and his Nerazzurri team, the chances are somewhat slim. They’re currently ten points behind their upcoming opponents despite winning three of their last four matches, but things are definitely looking up for this team after a turbulent campaign.
Mauro Icardi is leading the line with a real distinction and although Lukas Podolski has failed to set the world alight since his January switch, in Xherdan Shaqiri Mancini has a gem of a footballer who’s hungry to prove himself. A win here would be a massive boost to their hopes and would cut the sizable gap down to a much more manageable seven points.
The San Paolo is always a tough venue to visit however and after Roma’s recent slump, the Partenopei will be eyeing up a potential tilt at second place. But Rafa Benitez needs more from the effervescent attacking talents of Gonzalo Higuain, Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon; as of late the Napoli forwards have struggled to settle into an incisive groove.
Orlando City vs. New York City
Sunday, March 8, 4:00PM, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, Sling TV & WatchESPN
Both of these teams get their maiden MLS campaigns underway this weekend in what should be a gripping encounter at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Naturally the hosts will be Orlando City for this one at the sold out 62,000-seat stadium and their supporters will be desperate to see how their new side is faring at the inception of this MLS season. Their crown jewel and captain is former World Player of the Year Kaka, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Brazilian star fares in the ferocious tempo of the division.
The opposition boast a few classy talents of their own, however. Likely to be leading their line is former Barcelona star David Villa and despite his advancing years, quality goal scorers like him rarely lose the knack of putting the ball in the back of the net. Indeed, coach Jason Kreis will be hoping the midfield talents in his squad can supply Villa with the service he needs to flourish in front of goal.
Expect a raucous atmosphere to welcome the men from New York as both sides gear up for their MLS debut. Aside from the 62,000 spectators packed into the Citrus Bowl, expect plenty around the globe to be tuning in to this enticing fixture on opening weekend.
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Monday, March 9, 2:45PM, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Soccer 2GO
The standout FA Cup tie of the weekend will see Manchester United host Arsenal at Old Trafford, with both teams desperate to secure a Wembley berth in the semi-finals.
Aside from their glitch in the Champions League against Monaco, Arsenal have been in pretty good form as of late. Arsene Wenger has a surfeit of attacking options to choose from and after Alexis Sanchez got back amongst the goals in midweek against Queens Park Rangers, he has a selection headache when it comes to picking his offensive weapons.
As for United, they continue to trudge through matches with a scarcity of rhythm and endeavor, but they’re also adept at churning out positive results, something that was wholly evident in their win over Preston North End in the previous round of this competition. Louis van Gaal will be desperate to land a trophy in his first season in charge and will fancy his teams chances at what should be a bouncing Old Trafford.
With a host of the best teams in the country eliminated and another big name set for an exit on Monday, the winner of this tie has a massive opportunity to sample silverware under the Wembley arch in the May final. As such, while the FA Cup may not command quite as much gravitas as it once did, expect this clash to be very keenly contested.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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