STAR PREVIEW: FA Cup 2020-21


or a competition which is known very much for its giant-killing, the FA Cup has been the preserve of the elite in recent years. The only two clubs outside what could be defined the ‘Big Six’ (Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool) to win the trophy since 1994-95 are Wigan (2012/13) and Portsmouth (2007/08); Every other winner has actually been from the Big Six.

So when looking at the outrights, it’s understandable that the big six occupy the first six in the market for this year’s competition and a win for any of them would not be a surprise. However, this has been anything but a normal season on many fronts, as shown by a Premier League table which sees just seven points separate first from tenth in a season which is arguably the most congested in history.

That congestion threatens to give some teams unpleasant dilemmas, with injuries having already hit a number of clubs and COVID also an issue for other top teams, and the packed schedule doesn’t offer any room. There are a full Premier League game weeks before and after the fourth round whilst the fifth round is sandwiched in-between Premier League fixtures that will take place the weekend before and after; Only by the quarter-finals, where the best teams in England could be in European action still, do league matches get postponed to move fixtures.

That’s going to put a lot of pressure on top sides, and takes all appeal away from 7/2 favourites Manchester City (League Cup finalists who are chasing a first Champions League title and the Premier League title) and 7/1 second favourites Liverpool, who are aiming to retain their title whilst going closer in the Champions League this time around. Liverpool have the considerable advantage of Aston Villa’s COVID outbreak turning a banana-skin into a tie they’re odds on to win, but Jurgen Klopp has chosen the league over the cup for the duration of his time at Liverpool.

Manchester United have a good amount of squad depth but one wonders if Bruno Fernandes is the key for them navigating any tough ties and their habit of exiting at the semi-finals must be a worry for backers.

Jose Mourinho loves trophies so his Tottenham side have to be taken seriously especially with non-league Marine first up, but they already have one final in the bag and the Europa League is also likely to be on the Spurs radar, which doesn’t make them an attractive choice as they’re likely than most to be fighting for the title. Leicester could well be fighting for the title if not the top four, with the Europa League surely a tempting prize for

Arsenal have dominated the cup recently – last season’s victory was their fifth in eight years – and they may benefit from a changed side with an injection of youth helping them to three straight wins in the Premier League. The likes of Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah could all inject some more life in the Gunners going forward, although it remains to be seen if they can get more consistency into their play, especially going forward.

The most appealing of the Big Six was Chelsea, who have a lot of squad depth and a fair opening tie against Morecambe, but the urge to get a top four spot at least along with Champions League football could complicate plans. It also remains to be seen how long it takes for them to recover their best form, because their record against top ten sides has been abysmal.

Whilst it’s rare to see a non-big six side make the semis – let alone go further – plenty have come close and given backers an excellent run for their money, and backing a Premier League team with top half aspirations and no European football could provide us with the best value.

FA Cup 2020-21
Third round proper: Friday 8th January 2021 – Monday 10th January 2021
Fourth round proper: Saturday 23 January 2021
Fifth round proper: Wednesday 10 February 2021
Quarter-finals: Saturday 20 March 2021
Semi-finals: Saturday 17 April 2021
Final: Saturday 15 May 2021

*Subject to change

2019-20 FA Cup final: Arsenal (won 2-1 against Chelsea)
2018-19 FA Cup final: Manchester City (won 5-0 against Watford)
2017-18 FA Cup final: Chelsea (won 1-0 against Manchester United)
2016-17 FA Cup final: Arsenal (won 2-1 against Chelsea)
2015–16 FA Cup final: Manchester United (won 2–1 against Crystal Palace)
2014–15 FA Cup final: Arsenal (won 4–0 against Aston Villa)
2013–14 FA Cup final: Arsenal (won 3–2 against Hull City)
2012–13 FA Cup final: Wigan Athletic (won 1–0 against Manchester City)
2011–12 FA Cup final: Chelsea (won 2–1 against Liverpool)
2010–11 FA Cup final: Manchester City (won 1–0 against Stoke City)

Everton have the considerable advantage of not being in the Europa League and whilst they’ll be aiming for as high a league finish as possible in the Premier League, they took the EFL Cup seriously, only being knocked out by Manchester United in the quarter-final stage and 16/1 looks to be a fair price about them. Carlo Ancelotti started Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison against Fleetwood in the third round and then started an even stronger team for their clash with West Ham in the fourth round (Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, Allan, Gylfi Sigurdsson and James Rodriguez all started), suggesting that he wants to end Everton’s trophy drought.

Investment over the summer means that their squad depth is improved, and a third round tie against Rotherham is a kind draw to begin with for The Toffees, who are missing a few players for the tie – namely Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Allan, Fabian Delph, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Jordan Pickford – but who look set to get those players back if making it through. Their record against the big six is slightly patchy, but elsewhere they’ve scored some notable successes both home and away whilst Carlo Ancelotti – who’s now had time to bed into life at Goodison – has a strong knockout record.

West Ham are tenth in the Premier League but just seven points behind Liverpool and whilst they’ve been out of form recently, there are plenty of mitigating factors involved and David Moyes’ side showed resilience to steal three points from Everton when last seen in the Premier League. With Sebastian Haller having moved to Ajax they are short of attacking power but if they can find a replacement – and they ought to have enough to get past National League Stockport on Monday – then suddenly they become much more attractive, especially without Europa League football to boot. Even if that should fall through, it is a huge boost that Michail Antonio is fit again.

West Ham haven’t lost to a team from outside the big six since the opening weekend, have beaten Wolves, Leicester, Everton and Leeds whilst nicking points from Tottenham and Manchester City too, so a big draw shouldn’t be a write off and they look value at 40/1.

Last but not least, a chance is taken on Southampton. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were knocked out by an 87th minute penalty in a replay at Tottenham after winning the shot count and they look improved this season based on their Premier League form, which sees them sit sixth in the table after a 1-0 win against Liverpool on Monday.

The Saints have shown a good commitment to cup competitions in the past – including in last season’s EFL and FA Cup runs – and they hopefully will have enough to get past Shrewsbury in a postponed game unless they get a walk over after the visitors had a number of positive coronavirus tests.

Those who want an even bigger price could choose Brighton at 50/1 – Graham Potter’s men should have enough for Newport and whilst they’ve been languishing at the bottom of the Premier League table, they’re hideously unlucky to be in such a situation, with expected goals ratings putting them as the joint fifth best side in the table. However, the relegation battle could be a big distraction going forward.

Tonight’s feature game was meant to feature Aston Villa – my initial main fancy for the Cup – against Liverpool but a COVID outbreak there means that a youth side will be played, essentially handling victory to Liverpool, who are now 1/10 to win in 90 minutes. There was no betting appeal there without any guide in the way of team news.

Wolves’ injury list (Raul Jimenez, Leander Dendoncker, Fernando Marcal, Jonny Otto and Daniel Podence) makes them easy to oppose against Crystal Palace in tonight’s other tie, where team news ought to create a big shift in the markets, but neither really makes them

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Everton 1 pt each/way at 16/1 with
BACK Southampton 1 pt each/way at 25/1 with
BACK West Ham 1 pt each/way at 40/1 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 89.14 points
(Excluding Cheltenham 2021 antepost, Premier League 2020/21 Ante Post, Champions League Ante-post, 2021 Grand National recommended bets 14 Nov 2020 & 6 Dec 2020, Cheltenham Festival ante-post bets recommended 26 Dec and 2 Jan, FA Cup antepost recommended 8 Jan)