The FA Cup fourth round will see the Premier League temporarily put on hold, but there are some tantalizing ties to savor from this weekend’s games.
Two of our selections come from the world’s oldest soccer competition; in addition we’ve got Dutch football’s biggest rivals coming head-to-head, a clash between two giants of Italian soccer and an enticing game between two teams looking to skew the natural order at the top of La Liga.
All kick-offs are in Easter time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Cambridge United vs. Manchester United
Friday, January 23, 2:55PM, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Soccer 2GO
League Two Cambridge United’s reward for progressing to the fourth round of the FA Cup is a clash with the might of Manchester United. With the game set to be played on a Friday night under the floodlights at the 8,200 capacity Abbey Stadium, expect a raw atmosphere that only this tournament is capable of conjuring.
Cambridge beat Luton Town 2-1 in the previous round of the competition and will be desperate to put in a performance with the watching world focusing on the occasion. At the moment the club are languishing in mid-table in League 2, but the players—including former United title winner Luke Chadwick—will surely raise their game for the visit of the Red Devils.
Even that probably won’t be enough to get the better of a United side that will be bristling with quality. Two of Louis van Gaal’s summer signings—Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria—bagged the goals to dump out Yeovil Town in the previous round, with the Premier League club’s superior fitness proving to be the deciding factor in the end.
It’s going to be even more difficult for Cambridge, a team ranked even lower in the footballing pyramid than Yeovil, but those in attendance will surely make it a very uncomfortable evening for their illustrious opponents.
Lazio vs. Milan
Saturday, January 24, 2:45PM, beIN SPORTS and DishWorld
These two giants of Italian football aren’t quite at the peak of their powers, but with each team hopeful of securing that coveted third spot in Serie A come the end of the campaign, expect a frenetic 90 minutes when Lazio host Milan at the Stadio Olimpico.
Lazio’s excellent run of form was brought to an abrupt end by Napoli last time out, as a goal from Gonzalo Higuain bagged the points for the Partenopei. For the hosts, it’s vital that loss doesn’t halt the strides they’ve made in recent encounters, for this effervescent Biancocelesti team are still just a couple of points behind Napoli and very much in the race for Champions League football.
Milan are seven back on third spot and will go into this game in desperate need of three points to inject some much-needed impetus into what’s been a stuttering campaign. The Rossoneri are without a win in their last four Serie A matches; another loss here and manager Filippo Inzaghi might just start coming in for some serious pressure.
Victory can change everything, though. Indeed, a big performance from Milan will see them move to within two points of Lazio and suddenly, things aren’t looking quite so desperate.
Ajax vs. Feyenoord
Sunday, January 25, 6:30AM, no legal TV or Internet options available
The game dubbed as “Der Klassieker” in the Netherlands sees Ajax and Feyenoord go head-to-head. And while both teams have pretty different ambitions this season, the Amsterdam Arena is a sight to behold when the club’s great rivals come to town.
Ajax quite simply need to win this match. At the moment, PSV Eindhoven’s impressive young side lead the Eredivisie by four points from the Amsterdam giants and such is their quality, any dropped points at the hands of Feyenoord could really hamper their title hopes. But having lost just one home game all season, you suspect de Godenzonen faithful will fancy their chances.
By contrast, Feyenoord need a victory to preserve any lingering hopes of challenging for the title. But encouragingly for the visitors, behind the league leaders they have the best away record in the division. Colin Kazim-Richards is a player that’s been vital to the club’s cause so far this campaign; the former Sheffield United man has scored seven goals already this season.
Violence has often erupted at these occasions and while it would be an obvious shame to see clashes between supporters on Sunday, expect an atmosphere to be conjured by the home supporters laced with more than a tinge of hostility.
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Arsenal
Sunday, January 25, 11:00AM, FOX Sports 2 and FOX Soccer 2GO
Arsenal will be looking to follow up their exceptional performance away to Manchester City by continuing their defense of the FA Cup; but they’ll be in for a tough afternoon when they make the trip to the South coast to take on a rejuvenated Brighton & Hove Albion team.
The Gunners won this trophy last season to end nine years of silverware hurt and with little chance of a title challenge materializing in the Premier League, expect a strong team to be fielded by Arsene Wenger for this one. Nonetheless, it’s vital the players that run out at the Amex Stadium are fully focused on what will be an undeniably tricky cup tie.
A few months ago it may not have been, but Brighton look a side revitalized as of late. The club have made some very positive strides under the tutelage of Chris Hughton and come into this one on the back of three wins from their last four Championship games; the most recent of which was a 3-2 victory over high-flying Ipswich Town.
It’s certainly a potentially dangerous trip for the Gunners and one you could have easily seen them losing earlier in the campaign. But confidence should be sky high on the back of their triumph at the Etihad Stadium and with a host of players close to a full return to fitness, competition for places should keep levels high within this Arsenal team.
Valencia vs. Sevilla
Sunday, January 25, 3:00PM, beIN SPORTS Espańol and DishWorld
The game of the weekend in La Liga will see two of the division’s form sides go head-to-head, as Valencia and Sevilla look to cement their status as challengers for a Champions League berth.
In truth, such is the form both of these teams have been in as of late, it’s pretty difficult to call this one. Valencia may just have the edge with the game being at the Mestalla and if they can better of the Andalusian visitors come Sunday, Nuno Santos’ team would leapfrog them into fourth place. But Sevilla are a side well equipped to deal with the threat posed by Los Che.
Not too dissimilarly to Valencia, Sevilla have fashioned an entertaining team who play with a real swagger going forward, but critically there is an underpinning solidity to their efforts too. That desirable balance has seen them pick up five wins and a draw from their last six La Liga matches and another one here would be a major statement of intent.
Both sides will be desperate to lay down a marker here and keep in touch with the revered top three teams in the division for as long as possible. That should pave the way for an enthralling occasion at the Mestalla and this clash is the perfect way to cap off a wonderful weekend of action.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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