The FA Cup is back this weekend, and I’m hoping we see some more magic. There are plenty of lower-tier clubs facing Premier League giants, so we could be in for some major upsets. Set those alarms so you don’t miss a second of the action: Rob Stone
Arsenal vs. Blackburn (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET)
Thirty-four is the magic number for Arsenal in FA Cup play. They are unbeaten in their last 34 games against lower-ranked sides in the tournament, and they’re also unbeaten in their last 34 FA Cup matches at home. One of the reasons they’ve been on a roll lately is Olivier Giroud. He scored a double in their last FA Cup win, and has put in five goals in his last five games for the London side. With Champions League play looming for the Gunners -- they are set to face Bayern Munich next week -- Arsenal would like to end this one early and head into that match with lots of confidence.
Oldham vs. Everton (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)
These two sides last met in the FA Cup in the third round at Goodison Park in 2008, and it was the League One side that pulled off a shock 1-0 victory. The Toffees have been strong on the road lately and will be looking to gain revenge for that loss. They have won four of their last six games away from home, with one of those losses coming last week against league leading Manchester United. While fullback Leighton Baines may look the guy who was your barista at Starbucks earlier this morning, he can do much more than serve up a good cup of coffee – he has been crafting some wonderful goals for his side as well. The England international has a superb left foot and has four goals in his last eight appearances – impressive for a defender.
Chelsea vs. Brentford (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 7 a.m. ET)
The defending champs got a nice 1-0 road win against Sparta Prague in Europa League play Thursdat, with Oscar scoring the game-winner, so they’ll have a bit of confidence coming in to their fourth-round replay with Brentford. While Fernando Torres may have only one goal in his last 12 appearances, that solo strike came in the initial meeting with Brentford. With Demba Ba’s continuing shaky situation (broken nose), this is an opportunity for Torres to play with confidence and reclaim that starting spot up top for the Blues. Yes, it’s a replay, and Brentford will have a boost after the wonderful outing they had the first time around, but don’t forget, that was at home. Having to travel just down the road to Stamford Bridge will likely make it a different story for the third tier side.
Manchester City vs. Leeds United (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET)
It’s been rough for Manchester City lately. They are winless in their last three games, they’re out of the Champions League and they’re barely hanging on in the Premier League – this tournament seems like their lone chance to win a trophy this season. The Carlos Tevez situation continues to occupy my thoughts. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him play, and he was unavailable last weekend due to family reasons, although he should be back on Sunday. For me, it’s worth watching to see if: a) He will be available. B) Will he start? C) Will he be productive? If none of those happen, I think there is a much, much deeper problem going on with Carlos Tevez right now.
Manchester United vs. Reading (live, FOX Soccer, Monday, 3 p.m. ET)
If you’re supposed to treat the treble like a no-hitter, than I’m failing those who are superstitious. It is ALL about the treble for Manchester United. They had a huge 1-1 road draw at Real Madrid in Champions League play midweek, and last weekend they extended their lead atop the Premiership to 12 points. Now the Red Devils have Monday activity against Reading in the FA Cup. The last time United lost to Reading was in 1927...but it was in FA Cup play. Chicharito did not make the field in Madrid on Wednesday, so I expect him to get the start. Reading places their hopes on ALF: Adam Le Fondre. He has hit for seven goals in his last seven appearances, and he also happened to have scored against United earlier this season.
USA’s much needed support system
Next week down in Mexico, CONCACAF U-20 Championship play begins, and you can see it live on the FOX Soccer family of networks. It may not be a glamor, high profile type event, but, if you’re a U.S. supporter you need to be watching and cheering on the red, white and blue. This is the future of our international team, and from what you’ve seen from the big boys as of late, you’re well aware that they need a spark. They would love to have some young talent come through and give them a little boost. Will we see it from one of the players down in Mexico? You’ll have to watch to find out.