Chance for chasing pack and dreamers
LONDON (dpa) – All eyes will be on the FA Cup this weekend as the big guns try to take a step nearer to adding to their trophy collection and some of the smaller teams try to create another magical moment.
For the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, the weekend’s fifth-round ties are also a chance to get away from their struggles behind Manchester United at the top of the league.
City, humbled at Southampton last weekend as the gap between themselves in second and United was extended to 12 points, need to bounce back immediately as they entertain Leeds United at Eastlands on Sunday.
Manager Roberto Mancini has promised a number of changes but Pablo Zabaleta believes the team chosen for Sunday’s game will show the spirit and class that took them to the league title last season.
“We had a great session on Wednesday afternoon and the feeling among the lads is very positive,” the Argentina full back said.
“Sometimes after a game like Southampton you need a few days to think about what went wrong and why, and then come back stronger and I believe that’s what will happen.
“We know we gave probably our worst performance for two years or more last Saturday and it couldn’t have come at a worse time because it was such a vital game in the title race and United keep winning so the gap is even bigger than before, but you never know in football.
“We will learn from this defeat and use the deflated feeling we had afterwards as an inspiration to maybe try and rediscover the sort of spirit we had last season. We need to stand together, battle and show what we are really capable of.
“We will aim and get back to winning ways at the weekend in the FA Cup and that is our immediate focus now.”
The same can be said for Chelsea, four points behind City and whose defence of their Champions League title ended at the group stage.
Still in the Europa League, Chelsea’s caretaker manager Rafael Benitez admits he will have to rotate his squad due to fixture congestion but midfielder Frank Lampard, back to fitness and form, believes the FA Cup offers the London side a chance for redemption as they prepare to play Brentford on Sunday.
“At the minute the season hasn’t been successful,” Lampard said. “We should be challenging for titles rather than third or fourth, but we’re not. And we’ve not won some cups, we’ve been knocked out.
“We have to grab the fact that there are a lot of games to play and we have to try to win something.”
United will welcome back Nemanja Vidic for the visit of a Reading side who have spent the past week sunning themselves in the United Arab Emirates, taking advantage of a few days away to recharge their batteries.
Facing a battle for survival in the Premier League, manager Brian McDermott said the players were looking forward to taking on United, even if he hinted that it was not their No 1 priority.
“We’ll use the squad, there’s no doubt about that,” he said of Monday night’s game at Old Trafford.
“This is the toughest game you could have and if we’re going to progress we’ll have to do it the hard way. We’ve had two difficult games already, we won’t be favourites but it’s a fantastic opportunity for our club.”
Arsenal welcome Blackburn to the Emirates while Everton travel to Oldham. Luton take on Millwall, MK Dons meet Barnsley and Huddersfield face Wigan in the other last-16 ties.