Every year pundits muse on whether the FA Cup is losing its “magic”, but the competition tends to answer its critics with dramatic results and fascinating stories; this year has not disappointed.
Wolves dispatched Liverpool in front of the Anfield crowd and it took until the Fifth Round for Arsenal to halt non-league Sutton United’s remarkable progress. Lincoln’s incredible run has continued to the Quarter Final, accompanied by a Millwall team that has beaten a succession of Premier League opponents (including reigning Champions Leicester).
Now we’re down to the final eight. Surely this is the moment the remaining underdogs have their dreams shattered…
The bookies certainly think so. Coral only give Lincoln City a 40/1 chance of beating Arsenal at the Emirates, while Tottenham Hotspur are 2/9 to ease past Millwall.
The statistics agree. The likely favourites for the FA Cup – Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal – have conceded the fewest goals (see graphic below), while Lincoln’s 0.88 goals shipped per game are only surpassed by Spurs (after their nasty fright in the Fourth Round when Wycombe put three goals past them).
The Way it Looks
Chelsea and Manchester United appear to be the form teams going into the last stages of the competition. Both are averaging more than three goals per game and have each conceded just one in their run so far; City aren’t far behind.
In comparison Lincoln City have only scored 1.75 goals per game. They face an Arsenal side that has conceded only once in the competition so far, against Preston North End. The chances of Lincoln subjecting their opponents to a Bayern-esque deluge of goals seems slim.
However, when it comes to the bigger picture Lincoln are flying. Among the quarter-finalists, only Chelsea have a better win ratio in their league than Danny Cowley’s men (although Middlesbrough and Spurs aren’t up against the likes of Southport and North Ferriby United every week). Cowley’s cup run illustrates how far the National League has come in closing the gap on the professional game.
Non-league sides have notoriously wilted in the final third of the game when playing against more senior teams. The Imps’ victory over Burnley showed this is no longer a given and against Arsenal they should be fit enough to compete for the full 90 minutes.
Realistically it is probable that the Semi-Finals will be contested by the Premiership’s leading teams, but nothing is certain in the Cup.
Head to Head
Reviewing historical head-to-head results against their Semi-Final opposition, Lincoln and Millwall fans have little reason to be cheerful. Neither have ever won at their respective north London oppositions’ grounds, with Arsenal having won 10 out of 13 against The Imps.
The same is not true of Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s club has won 60% of fixtures against Manchester City at home, while it was only two years ago they famously beat them in the Fourth Round at the Etihad.
Surely the biggest game of the round takes place at Stamford Bridge, where Manchester United have failed to win since 2012. Mourinho may prefer to reflect on the long-term record when he returns to his old stomping ground; over time, the Reds have won around 40% of games at the Bridge compared to Chelsea’s 30%.
But When Does The FA Cup Go By The Book?
Over 135 years The FA Cup has thrown up surprises, legends, and developed its own beliefs and myths. Some regard the west dressing room in the new Wembley as the “lucky” one; when the Final temporarily relocated to Cardiff, the south dressing room was said to be cursed.
For any superstitious souls, we’ve delved through the Cup Final archives to discover where some magic might lie…
The Colour of Glory…
For those looking to beat the FA Cup Final odds, red is most certainly the lucky colour; 25% of winners have worn red as their main colour. That puts Middlesbrough, Manchester United, and of course Lincoln City in the frame.
Blue kits follow red with almost 18% of winners playing in blue, and 13% wearing blue and white – might this be a good omen for Millwall? They are one of the biggest FA Cup Giant Killers!
Does their white strip rule out Spurs? Do Lincoln really have more of a chance than them based on shirt colour alone? It seems unlikely, given the eight times that Tottenham have taken the cup home to their trophy cabinet in the past.
A North-South Divide…
Does geography play a part? While Spurs may be 10/3 and fourth favourites to win the FA Cup, only a third of winners have been located in the south, a fact that seems to favour Middlesbrough and the two Manchester clubs.
The North-South divide is often debated in football and the cup’s history leans toward northerners’ success; the FA Cup has been won by northern clubs 86 times, with honours shared among 26 different teams.
So, with their combination of a northern edge and a red strip Manchester United might seem to have history and luck on their side– not to mention a FA Cup history that matches Arsenal (12 wins, 19 Finals, and 28 Semi-Final appearances).
The bookmakers have the Gunners and Chelsea favoured at around 3/1, but we all know the FA Cup is far too unpredictable for it to be plain sailing…