It’s the Oldest Cup Competition in the World! But it’s fighting for relevance in the modern game! But third-round weekend! Cardboard FA Cups covered in tinfoil! Local butchers doing horrible-looking sausages in plucky local side’s colours! Games on free-to-air TV that your dad still calls “terrestrial” despite that word being chiefly meaningless in 21st century broadcasting! Isn’t it? Hmm? Marvellous.
But who’s going to win the most important of the unimportant trophies this time around? Here are the 10 leading contenders after the fourth-round weekend according to the best prices available at oddschecker.com as of… now.
1) Manchester City
The FA Cup is actually the one domestic competition City haven’t dominated in the Guardiola Era. They’ve won four of the last five Premier League titles and six of the last nine Carabaos, but only one FA Cup in the last decade. They’re certainly not doing this year’s competition on easy mode, either, having dispatched Chelsea (five finals in last six years) and Arsenal (runaway Premier League leaders, four FA Cups in last nine years) in their first two rounds. Presumably it’ll be Manchester United in round five?
2) Manchester United
The biggest movers after round three consolidated second spot in the betting with a routine home win over Reading while crosstown rivals City sorted out Arsenal to make everyone’s lives that little bit easier. Still very much on for a Liverpoolesque domestic cup double as well having taken charge of their Carabao semi-final against Nottingham Forest with a 3-0 first-leg win.
The competition that most clearly marks out the Spursy niche in which English football’s pre-eminent banter club operates. Only Arsenal and Manchester United have won more than Spurs’ total of eight FA Cups, but they haven’t so much as reached a final since the days of Gascoigne and Lineker (and Des Walker extra-time own goals) in 1991. The dominance of the other five Big Six teams has secured them 26 of the 30 FA Cups in the Premier League era, yet Spurs’ contribution to that is nothing more than a string of variably shambolic semi-final exits. Teams to reach the FA Cup final more recently than Spurs include: Leicester, Watford, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull, Wigan, Stoke, Portsmouth, Everton, Cardiff, West Ham, Millwall, Southampton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland. It is an absurd and very, very funny list. Spurs are still third favourites for this season’s trophy, though, and still you sort of think that maybe this year will be different when obviously of course it will not. They limped past Portsmouth at home in round three but were slightly more convincing in round four where a strong second-half showing overpowered Preston.
There they sit, snugly in that little sweet spot where the assumption is that because a club is clear of relegation danger and unlikely to qualify for Europe, they might fancy a crack at winning an actual trophy. It rarely ever actually works out like that but Brighton do seem capable of beating any team on a given day, especially if that team happens to be Liverpool who they’ve now beaten twice this year, once in the league and thrillingly last-gaspily in the FA Cup. Fourth favourites, playing lovely football and absolutely in with a great chance of landing a first ever major pot.
5) West Ham
It says a great deal about the wild openness of this year’s FA Cup that West Ham are currently sitting pretty as fifth favourites to win the whole damn thing despite a) being shit and b) not yet actually having made it through to round five. They’ve got to get past Derby on Monday night first.
Weren’t very good at all against Cardiff and perhaps a trifle fortunate to find themselves in the hat for round four. But they dealt with the Cardiff replay adroitly enough and sorted out Accrington with minimal fourth-round fuss. And thus find themselves safely through to the last 16 at which point anything (but let’s be real most likely losing 1-0 at Stoke or something) can happen.
The most recent of the four non-Big Six winners of the last 30 years, Leicester stunned Chelsea at Wembley only 18 months ago but an awful lot has changed at the King Power in the interim. And little of it has been good. They’ve hardly sashayed their way elegantly into the last 16 either, edging out both Gillingham and Walsall through FA Cup specialist Kelechi Iheanacho. That 2021 success was very much the exception rather than the norm; it’s the only time Leicester have made it past the quarter-finals in the last 40 years.
Would presumably be fifth favourites right now had they managed to sort out Sunderland at Craven Cottage but almost found themselves on the wrong end of one of the great FA Cup stories until 15-year-old Christopher Rigg’s storybook winner for Sunderland was ruled out by the most spoilsport of linesman’s flags. But Fulham survive and, should they find themselves with a kindly draw on Monday night and negotiate a replay at the Stadium of Light, they will fly up this list.
Cup specialists, aren’t they? Managed to beat Blackpool while giving James Ward-Prowse the rarest of days off thanks to a couple of goals from left-back Romain Perraud – one of them a distinctly Ward-Prowse-like free-kick.
Despite the number of high-profile early fallers, Burnley are the only side from outside the Premier League to scrape into the top 10 here. And they still need to make sure they don’t slip up in a fourth-round replay against League One promotion chasers Ipswich just to reach the last 16.
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