FA Cup/Premier League W2W4: Will Man United play kids? Only Liverpool can stop Liverpool
There are some big games in both the FA Cup (all live on ESPN+ in the U.S.) and Premier League this weekend. Nick Miller rounds up what to watch for.
Will Manchester United play kids against Wolves?
After a brilliant start under their new boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United side are creaking. Last weekend they lost to Arsenal, looking worn out mentally as much as physically (though that is hardly surprising after the monumental effort it took to beat PSG in the Champions League) and have been beset by injuries.
So the question is: if some of their wounded key men are back in time to face Wolves in the FA Cup this weekend (live on ESPN+ on Saturday, 3.55 p.m. ET), should Solskjaer risk them? Logically speaking, no. Trying to compete on three fronts is a noble aim, but a potentially foolish one given the other two competitions (Champions League and Premier League) are much more important, and the fitness of his players is already looking shaky.
Sure, there is a gap in club action for the international break, but most of his players will disappear with their respective countries so it will hardly be a rest for them. Nobody would think less of Solskjaer if he picked the likes of Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong against Wolves. Except, perhaps, Solskjaer himself.
Zinchenko is taking his chance at City
It must be hard to stand out among the many extraordinary talents in the Manchester City team, but you can make a case that their most improved player in the last few months has been Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The Ukrainian is a midfielder by trade but has spent most of his time in the City first-team as an emergency left-back, something Pep Guardiola requires with unfortunate frequency given the injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph.
Zinchenko has started seven of City's last eight games and will presumably play again against Swansea in the FA Cup (live on ESPN+, Saturday, 1.20 p.m. ET) this weekend. He has been terrific in recent weeks, after looking like a liability earlier in the season. If he continues to excel then he has a genuine chance of establishing himself in City's defence.
Would Millwall take an FA Cup semifinal and relegation?
This could turn out to be a confusing weekend for Millwall. They face Brighton (live on ESPN+, Sunday, 10 a.m. ET) in the FA Cup, while at the same time the Championship continues without them. Neil Harris's side sit just a point outside the relegation zone so, with all of their near rivals in league action, it's conceivable that they could beat a Premier League team but slip into the bottom three on the same day.
But would that be the end of the world? Would it be so terrible if they got through to the FA Cup semifinal but were also relegated?
Millwall have been in League One twice in the last decade, but made it up again: this is the life of a club their size in modern football, drifting between the second and third tiers, and you get the sense that if it doesn't happen this season, relegation will unfortunately come soon. If a Millwall fan was told they could reach the cup semis (and possibly the final) but would have to be relegated, surely they would take that deal.
FA Cup adds more spice to the Premier League's newest rivalry
On the surface of things, Watford vs. Crystal Palace (live on ESPN+, Saturday, 8.15 a.m. ET) looks like a relatively dull FA Cup tie: a game between two midtable Premier League teams who have already played each other twice this season is not the stuff of great footballing romance.
However, this is one of the burgeoning, low-key rivalries of the Premier League, so the more chance they have to increase the aggro between the two is very welcome. The ludicrous thing is that this all sort of stemmed from Roy Hodgson's disagreement with Harry the Hornet, Watford's mascot, after the Palace manager objected to him mocking Wilfried Zaha. Since then we've had various thinly-veiled barbs, plus the admission from Troy Deeney after their encounter earlier in the season that the Watford players were taking it in turns to kick Zaha.
All of which adds to what could be a pretty spicy encounter. Don't miss it.
Only Liverpool can stop Liverpool this weekend
Out of the FA Cup, there's the little business of the Premier League title race for Liverpool to focus on. Confidence is likely to be pretty high in the camp this week and why wouldn't it be, after not just beating, not just outplaying, but completely nullifying Bayern Munich in their own stadium in the Champions League in midweek?
Their opponents this weekend are Fulham, second bottom of the table and whose results haven't shown an uptick since the removal of Claudio Ranieri and installation of Scott Parker as manager. On paper it's not a tricky task for the Reds and the temptation must be for Jurgen Klopp to make big changes to his side. The only danger for Liverpool is that they assume this encounter will be a gift-wrapped three points and get sloppy. While Fulham have lost both their games under Parker, they have shown more cohesion and logic than with Ranieri, so they could potentially be a dangerous opponent for Klopp's men.
With Manchester City on FA Cup duty, they can reclaim top spot in the Premier League, but not if their own hubris takes over.
Can Pickford prove his worth for England?
Gareth Southgate indicated his loyalty to players who have performed well in the England shirt by including Kieran Trippier in his latest squad, despite the Tottenham right-back having a poor season for his club. For that reason as much as any other, Jordan Pickford will almost certainly start England's upcoming two games in goal, but there are still some fairly serious doubts about the Everton keeper.
Pickford has, to say the least, endured a patchy campaign for Everton, just the latest example of which was against Newcastle last time out, when he might have done better for at least two goals in the 3-2 defeat. He could really do with a positive performance when Everton face Chelsea on Sunday, for his team's benefit but also so that he goes into the international games with some confidence, and thus help his form for England. If he slips there, then Southgate might be forced to look elsewhere.
Will Marko Arnautovic start again for West Ham?
Marko Arnautovic hasn't started a game for West Ham since talk of a move to China meant he was deemed psychologically unsuitable for the first-team at the end of January. This week, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini listed a number of reasons for the Austrian's absence from the first-team, from the distractions provided by that aborted transfer to illness, but the midfielder is ready to play again and he will likely be restored to the starting XI when they face Huddersfield at the weekend.
Arnautovic came on at half-time in the defeat to Cardiff but too late to inspire and the team clearly lack spark without him leading the line. West Ham need him, and he needs West Ham: even if his mind is set on a move, the best way of achieving that is continued excellence on the pitch.