Big teams square off

The FA Cup quar­ter­fi­nal be­tween Man United and Chelsea is any­thing but a fore­gone con­clu­sion

CityPress - - Sport -

While Chelsea and Manch­ester United could hardly be en­joy­ing more dif­fer­ent Pre­mier League for­tunes this sea­son, it bears not­ing that an FA Cup quar­ter­fi­nal is the ul­ti­mate lev­eller, and that this glam­our clash’s out­come is any­thing but a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Ahead of the 2016/17 sea­son, few could have pre­dicted the enor­mous 16-point dif­fer­ence be­tween likely Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons, Chelsea, and six­th­placed Manch­ester United with 11 matches re­main­ing.

Be that as it may, for­mer Blues man­ager José Mour­inho has al­ready seen his Red Devils to their first cup vic­tory un­der his cus­to­di­an­ship hav­ing beaten Southamp­ton 3-2 in the EFL League Cup fi­nal.

This rel­a­tively mi­nor do­mes­tic suc­cess is un­likely to af­fect the com­bat­ive Por­tuguese man­ager’s de­sire for fur­ther suc­cess. How­ever, he would be des­per­ate to com­pen­sate for his side’s dire league per­for­mance with two cup vic­to­ries this sea­son.

The last time An­to­nio Conte hosted United, his side put an as­ton­ish­ing four unan­swered goals past their op­po­nents.

In a move that could well have re­sulted in a man­age­rial spat, the likes of which Mour­inho has be­come syn­ony­mous with, the 54-year old re­port­edly con­fronted his op­po­site num­ber for his sup­pos­edly ex­ag­ger­ated cel­e­bra­tions.

Whether or not the for­mer Italy boss will have an op­por­tu­nity to re­peat his now fa­mous post-goal an­tics, re­mains to be seen, but the neu­trals can only hope for a more equal con­test this time around. The form book sug­gests this may well be the case, with both teams suf­fer­ing only a sin­gle de­feat this calendar year.

Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan’s re­turn from in­jury will be a wel­come boost for the United mid­field. The Ar­me­nian made a rare start against FC Ros­tov this week, scor­ing the vis­i­tors’ only goal in a 1-all draw. His re­turn will see United travel to Lon­don with­out any ma­jor in­jury con­cerns.

Eden Hazard’s re­turn to full fit­ness this week means that Conte also has the lux­ury of be­ing able to select a start­ing XI from a fit squad.

In north Lon­don, Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur will hope to put an end to high-fly­ing League One out­fit Mill­wall’s re­mark­able cup cam­paign to­day.

Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s Spurs side may still be in math­e­mat­i­cal con­tention for the Pre­mier League ti­tle this sea­son, but, re­al­is­ti­cally, the FA Cup re­mains his only chance to se­cure his first tro­phy for the hosts.

Mill­wall boss Neil Har­ris has seen his side not only progress to the quar­ter­fi­nals of the pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion, but has also strung to­gether a re­mark­able se­ries of re­sults.

The Lions have gone a full 17 matches with­out a loss, and the club’s record goalscorer-turned-man­ager will no doubt be aim­ing to at least ex­tend this run by one more match.

Tot­ten­ham’s Érik Lamela re­mains side­lined with a trou­ble­some hip in­jury and Danny Rose is also still un­avail­able, while the vis­i­tors are likely to be with­out their fifth-round hero, goal­keeper Jor­dan Archer.

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