Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal remain the last big guns left in the FA Cup, but don’t rule any side out from reigning victorious in May.
The Gunners will fancy their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals after drawing Middlesbrough at home in the fifth round. However Boro will provide a stern test, having knocked out Manchester City convincingly in the last round.
United may consider themselves favourites, and Louis van Gaal has already declared that the FA Cup is now his side's priority this season. Also no European fixtures could help them in their quest, with Arsenal and Liverpool involved in continental ties.
The Merseyside club will also be strongly tipped for Wembley glory after scraping through against Bolton Wanderers. However a trip to Selhurst Park in the next round, an unhappy hunting ground for Brendan Rodgers’ men in recent times, could prove a daunting test.
Aside from the more established names, there are many sides who may now fancy their chances of a surprise cup triumph. The likes of West Brom, Stoke, Crystal Palace, Leicester, West Ham, Aston Villa and Sunderland of the Premier League will all be beginning to believe.
West Ham or Stoke would be my outside bets to compete for the trophy; Sam Allardyce’s Hammers have been vastly improved this season and look to have their hearts set on a strong challenge. Stoke are of a similar mould. They have transformed their play in recent times to a style more pleasing on the eye.
Sunderland have also enjoyed cup exploits in the past few seasons, reaching the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City last campaign: eventually losing 3-1. A favourable draw against the dangerous League One side Bradford City will only enhance belief that Gus Poyet’s team can go all the way.
Six lower league teams remain in the competition at the last 16 stage. Bradford spectacularly knocked out Chelsea in the last round and may fancy their chances in the upcoming home tie against Sunderland.
In an all Championship clash, Derby play Reading at Pride Park. Of these remaining sides, the Rams may be tipped as the team to go furthest. Steve Maclaren’s side are near the summit of the English second tier and the Midlands club play some eye catching football at times.
At this point in the competition, I would rank Manchester United as slight favourites. However in the most open FA Cup for years, the underdog may continue to flourish. Rule nothing out. However, United along with Arsenal and Liverpool, will all be kicking themselves if they don’t take advantage of such an opportunity to enjoy Wembley glory.
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