FA Cup Preview and Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace

Competition: FA Cup: Fifth Round – Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace

Venue: White Hart Lane – Sunday, February 21 – 15:00 GMT (10:00 ET)

Match Odds: Tottenham Hotspur 8/13 – Draw 14/5 – Crystal Palace 19/4

Match Preview

Tottenham welcome London rivals Crystal Palace to White Hart Lane in an FA Cup clash to savour on Sunday, with a place in the quarter-finals of the competition at stake.

Spurs are enjoying an incredible season and are genuine title contenders at this stage. They have the chance to strengthen their chase for three major trophies with a win here, but there will be question marks over their consistency as a trip to Fiorentina on Thursday may play a factor in Sunday’s performance.

This is a crucial part of the season for Spurs. They are already further in the FA Cup than they managed last year and fans would be forgiven for dreaming of an incredible domestic double.

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A few first team players were benched on Thursday and so we’re expecting changes from Mauricio Pochettino.

Tottenham’s 2016 FA Cup run: 3rd Round: Leicester (H) 2-2 – Leicester (A) 2-0 (replay) – 4th Round: Colchester (A) 4-1

Former Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor will return to White Hart Lane for the first time since leaving with Crystal Palace here. Make what you will of what that means, but we’re expecting emotions to run high.

Palace are struggling for form. They haven’t won in the Premier League since December and have only won once in their last seven. That’s simply not good enough for a side that was threatening the top four earlier in the season.

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They have, however, seemingly been good in the cup and could still qualify for European football if they can reach the final of this year’s FA Cup. They won’t need any more incentive to win on Sunday, though, with a trip to London rivals Spurs enough motivation for the Eagles.

Crystal Palace’s 2016 FA Cup run: 3rd Round: Southampton (A) 2-1 – 4th Round: Stoke City (H) 1-0

Tottenham have already completed a league double over their London rivals this season, with the most recent meeting coming just a month ago. Spurs came from behind to win 3-1 at Selhurst Park, with Dele Alli’s wonder-goal making the difference.

Team News

Tottenham Hotspur are expected to rotate the side that played in Florence on Thursday night, with the highlight changes likely to come at full back as Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are both expected to return. Tom Carroll, Jan Vertonghen and Clinton N’Jie are all out and Hugo Lloris is unlikely to feature as he is battling a minor shoulder injury.

Crystal Palace could see Yannick Bolasie, Joe Ledley and Dwight Gayle all return following minor leg injuries. James McArthur and Jason Puncheon are yet to be given return dates.

Key Points

Tottenham Hotspur’s last five in all competitions: W/W/W/W/D

Crystal Palace’s last five in all competitions: L/W/L/D/L

Key Stat: Spurs have only lost once in their last 14 matches in all competitions.

Key Player: Emmanuel Adebayor – Say what you will about the big Palace striker but he has a habit of proving to be a match-winner in big-game situations and it wouldn’t surprise us if he produces some magic against his former club here. If Palace are to win, he will be the catalyst on Sunday.

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Score Prediction

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Crystal Palace – Although Palace have already dispatched of Premier League opposition twice in this year’s FA Cup, we’re not expecting the third outing to be as fortunate. This is a well drilled and talented Tottenham team and it would take something special to beat them on Sunday in the form they’re in.

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FA Cup Preview and Prediction: Manchester United vs Arsenal

Competition: FA Cup Quarter-Final – Manchester United vs Arsenal

Venue: Old Trafford – Monday 9th March – 19:45 GMT (14:45 ET)

Match Odds: Man United 7/5 – Draw 5/2 – Arsenal 19/10

Match Preview

Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the final FA Cup quarter-final tie of the weekend on Monday night. With both sides fighting for a top four spot in the league, this tie acts as a happy distraction.

We’re expecting both Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger to deploy full-strength sides as they both pursue the trophy. But both will be wary that any cup run must not affect their league form with just 10 games left.

Manchester United are the favorites heading into this one having won their last six meetings with Arsenal at Old Trafford in all competitions.

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With United not playing in Europe this season there really is no excuse for them finishing outside the top four. And with the size of the club, United should be challenging on all fronts.

This is the furthest the Red Devils have got in the FA Cup for four seasons and both sides know that a place at Wembley is in line for whoever can advance to the semi-finals.

But with the injury to Robin Van Persie, are United strong enough to beat an Arsenal side that has won ten of their last twelve in all competitions?

Holders Arsenal will see this as a free hit. With a poor record at Old Trafford over the years (including an 8-2 drubbing in 2011), Arsenal are the underdogs in this tie.

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Arsenal haven’t beaten Manchester United since May 2011, and will do well to break that run on Monday night in what will be a tough game, though a draw would earn the Gunners a replay at the Emirates.

Both sides boast some great attacking players, but can both be fragile defensively, so we’re expecting goals.

This will be the fourteenth FA Cup meeting between the two sides but Manchester United have dominated the most recent ties, winning the last two at Old Trafford without conceding a goal.

Team News

Manchester United: Luke Shaw (hamstring) and Robin Van Persie (ankle) are ruled out. Jonny Evans starts his six-match suspension so Phil Jones is likely to fill in at centre-back alongside Chris Smalling. Wayne Rooney is likely to continue playing as a striker in the absence of Van Persie.

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Arsenal: Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Mathieu Flamini (hamstring), Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) and Abou Diaby (calf) are all out. Gabriel Paulista (hamstring) is a doubt while Wojciech Szczesny and Nacho Monreal will face late fitness tests.Aaron Ramsey could return to the starting lineup while Olivier Giroud is set to play as the lone striker once again.

Key Points

Manchester United’s last five in all competitions: W/W/L/W/W

Arsenal’s last five in all competitions: W/W/L/W/W

Key Stat: Arsenal haven’t beaten Manchester United in the FA Cup in normal time since February 2003.

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Key Player: Santi Cazorla – Since being deployed in a more central role, Cazorla has been sensational. Expect him to be key on Monday night.

Score Prediction

Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal – We’re expecting a high scoring affair and an instant classic that could set the tone for both teams going into the final stretch of the season. Home advantage should see United edge it.

Will we see the ‘Best England’ at the Under-21 European Championships?

The England Under-21s will be heading to the European Championships in the Czech Republic this summer but how strong will their squad be? Jamie Ives weighs up what sort of team we should see in June.

If Roy Hodgson is to be believed, it will be as strong as head coach, Gareth Southgate wants it to be. And with FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s ‘England DNA project’ well under way, there is added pressure to perform this summer.

The England Manager said in November that: “My policy is this: After Gareth Southgate has picked his squad, I will pick my squad”. This is a clear indication that should he wish, Southgate will be able to take senior players such as Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling to the Euros as they are eligible to play for the Under-21 squad.

Any player born on or after 1 January 1992 can play for the Under-21s in Czech Republic so players up to the age of 23 could feature for Southgate’s side.

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When speaking to the Mirror in December, Southgate went on record stating that: “If players haven’t been with us for the qualification campaign and are only being parachuted in five days before, well what about the work we have been doing?” And he has a point.

The current Under-21 teams consists of many players that will fall short of the ‘ideal team’ if everyone that is eligible travels to the competition. Though surely they have earned their place in the team by getting the team through qualifying without losing a match (W9 D1 L0)?

There will be a strong cases made that England should take the likes of Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the championships if they are to have the best chance of winning. But in recent years, the players with senior caps tend to stay in the senior camp.

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Other European nations take their best players to any youth competition as it gives younger players the opportunity to experience the tough demands of tournament football before playing in a World Cup or European Championship.

Though that has not been a system used in England, so who will be on the plane to the Czech Republic in June?

For England to be successful at senior level it is pivotal that the younger players are allowed to develop, not only to gain experience at international level, but also to pick up that vital experience of playing in a major tournament. Especially if they have a squad with a much talent to choose from as the current crop.

In order for England to develop as a football nation, Southgate has to take the best available squad and he must be given time to work with them. A strong Under-21 side with a common agenda and understanding of what needs to be done will be overwhelming favorites to win this summer.

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Winning the Under-21 European Championship for the first time in 31 years would be a huge boost for the nation and could propel the senior team to further success in years to come. Much like the Germany Under-21s did in 2009 as their senior team then won the 2014 FIFA World Cup five years later.

This is arguably the best possible England Under-21 starting XI that Gareth Southgate could choose:

Goalkeeper: Jack Butland (Stoke City)

Defenders: Calum Chambers (Arsenal), John Stones (Everton), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United).

Midfielders: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Tom Carroll (Tottenham – on loan at Swansea City), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Ross Barkley (Everton).

Striker: Harry Kane (Tottenham).

Is this England's best possible starting XI for the Under-21 European Championship? (Via Lineupbuilder.com)

Is this England’s best possible starting XI for the Under-21 European Championship? (Via Lineupbuilder.com) 

Who do you think deserves to start for the England Under-21s at this summer’s tournament?

Bristol City vs West Ham United: FA Cup Preview and Prediction

Competition – FA Cup Fourth Round

Venue: Ashton Gate Stadium – Sunday, January 25 – 14:00

Match Odds: Bristol City 3/1 – Draw 13/5 – West Ham 19/20

Bristol City play host to the Premier League’s surprise package of the season, West Ham United, on Sunday afternoon in what should be a classic FA Cup tie.

Both sides had the trouble of playing a replay in the third round this month and could do without another one as both are chasing high finishes in the league.

Bristol City’s home record in all competitions: Played 17 – Won 13 – Drawn 2 – Lost 2

Bristol City lie second in League 1 and are looking good for a promotion this season. They come into the game in fine form off the back of an unbeaten run of seven and they have won six of those.

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However, Steve Cotterill’s men should see this game as a pleasant distraction from the league and a chance to cause a great cup upset in front of their own fans will be the target this weekend.

West Ham’s away record in all competitions: Played 11 – Won 3 – Drawn 5 – Lost 3

West Ham have had a slight lapse in form of late but did well to overcome Everton in round four. The Hammers are unbeaten in five but have had to settle for draws in four of those matches.

They had Carlton Cole to thank in the replay against Everton as he scored within a minute of coming on, and then converted his spot kick in the shootout, and Cole could get a start at Bristol this weekend.

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Sam Allardyce’s side are bringing defensive problems into this game, as James Tomkins and James Collins are both doubtful, and the Hammers have not kept a clean sheet away from home all season.

These two sides last met three years ago when both sides were in the Championship and played out a 1-1 draw at Ashton Gate on that day. The Hammers have not lost in any of the last ten meetings between the two, winning five.

Bristol City’s last five in all competitions: D/W/W/W/W

West Ham’s last five in all competitions: D/D/D/D/W

Key Stat: West Ham has failed to win in their last seven FA Cup ties.

Key Player: Alex Song – Since returning to the Premier League he has settled into this West Ham midfield superbly and has provided stability, as well as a lot more freedom for Mark Noble. He should be the difference in winning the midfield battle if he starts.

Bristol City vs. West Ham United Prediction: Bristol City 1 – 2 West Ham United – The Hammers to edge it and seal their place in the next round.

Liverpool vs. Bolton Wanderers: FA Cup Preview and Prediction

Competition: FA Cup Fourth Round

Venue: Anfield Stadium – Saturday January 24th – 17:30

Match Odds: Liverpool 2/7 – Draw 9/2 – Bolton Wanderers 9/1

Bolton Wanderers travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool on Saturday evening in search of a great cup upset in the FA Cup fourth round.

However, Liverpool are expected to progress following a recent run that has put their season back on course as they are now unbeaten in nine in all competitions and haven’t lost at home since early November.

Liverpool’s home record in all competitions: Played 17 – Won 6 – Drawn 8 – Lost 3

The Reds are chasing a top four spot in the Premier League but remain off the pace at the moment and are relying on slip ups from teams like Tottenham, Southampton and Arsenal above them.

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But the FA Cup brings a fresh challenge and another possibility of silverware, and following a near upset at AFC Wimbledon in the last round, Brendan Rodgers will want to field a strong side so they have best chance to avoid an upset in front of their own fans.

The Reds are one game away from a cup final at Wembley in the League Cup, and the home fans will expect to see them progress in the FA Cup too against a Bolton side that has lost nine of 15 games away from home this season.

Bolton Wanderers away record in all competitions: Played 15 – Won 4 – Drawn 2 – Lost 9

Bolton will come into this game in full confidence though as they are currently on a three game unbeaten streak in all competitions.

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Emile Heskey returned to English football with Bolton last month and so they have the experience needed to cause an upset.

Heskey is of course returning to his old stomping ground at Liverpool where he was part of the side that won the FA Cup in 2001.

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This will be the first meeting between the two sides in three years, and Bolton won that game 3-1 in front of their own fans on that day.

Though that victory was one of very few in recent times as Liverpool had won ten on the bounce against the Trotters before then.

Liverpool’s last five in all competitions: D/W/W/W/D

Bolton’s last five in all competitions: W/L/W/D/W

Key Stat: Liverpool have not lost a game in all competitions since the December 14, against Manchester United – an unbeaten run of nine has followed.

Key Player: Emile Heskey – Providing Heskey plays, he will be a huge threat in the box and has the experience to cause the Liverpool defence problems.

Liverpool vs. Bolton Prediction: Liverpool 2 – 0 Bolton Wanderers – Liverpool should cruise through to the last 16.

Will USA win the World Cup before England secure a second?

As of this moment in time, the USMNT are in a better position to win the World Cup than England.

This is mainly down to the infrastructure that Jurgen Klinsmann has installed within US soccer, as well as the regulations within MLS that promote youth development.

There will be many that argue MLS is weaker than the English Premier League, and that the standard of individuals within the English national team are better than the Americans – and they’re probably right.

But from a tactical and physical standpoint, the USA are far better.

In Brazil, England got it horribly wrong, playing three of their four strikers in all three, group games. This may have worked if they had a world-class defensive midfielder – which Roy Hodgson didn’t have at his disposal, and if the wide players could defend – Wayne Rooney couldn’t do it all that well when played on the left.

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USA on the other hand approached each game with caution and confidence in their ability to defend. Their counter-attacking system became a thing of beauty as they pushed heavyweights like Germany, Portugal and Belgium all the way.

Going forward, US soccer has great prospects coming through and the younger players like DeAndre Yedlin and John Anthony Brooks look set to shine from this moment forward.

The blaring difference within English football is the game time given to young prospects. For example, by the time most players turn 21 in England, they have spent most of their professional career out on loan in lower divisions. Whereas, at 20, Yedlin has had ample game time and is looking set to play as an All-Star in MLS next month.

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US soccer will only get stronger and finally has a clear direction in which to head under Jurgen Klinsmann. England, on the other hand, is still unclear if their senior players can handle the pressure on the biggest stage.

Realistically, England has the best league in the world and some world-class talent, but the national side have yet to develop a system and a playing style that can allow them to reach their potential.

US soccer has the resources and the athletes to eventually win a World Cup. We estimate it will take another ten years before they can really challenge, but this looks like a much shorter timescale than the one English football has, even if the FA have set the goal of winning the tournament in 2022.

Will USA win a World Cup before England?