Cup Action kicks off in England

Another fantastic football weekend is ahead of us, with plenty of interesting games across Europe in the various leagues and cups.

An eventful New Year program concluded on Tuesday and there were some interesting and also unexpected results. Man Utd slumped to another defeat, this time at the hands of Nottingham Forest on Saturday, whilst most other top teams won their matches. Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester City, AC Milan and Juventus all claimed three points. Arsenal stumbled in their pursuit of top spot, losing to London rivals Fulham whereas Tottenham beat Bournemouth and Liverpool got the better of an out of sorts Newcastle.

This coming weekend is FA Cup weekend in England, a break from the relentless league schedule. A number of top teams clash and it is also an opportunity for teams from the lower leagues to challenge themselves against more illustrious opponents. The first match took place on Thursday, an all Premier League tie between Crystal Palace and Everton that ended goalless, and Friday Brentford play Wolves, Fulham host Rotherham and it’s Tottenham versus Burnley. Other highlights include a Northeast derby between Newcastle and Sunderland, Brighton travelling to Stoke and Aston Villa heading to Middlesbrough. Last season’s winners Manchester City are at home to Huddersfield and the tie of the match takes place on Sunday as Arsenal host Liverpool. The final match of this round takes place on Monday evening between Wigan and Manchester United. The EFL Cup semi-final first legs will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week with Middlesbrough hosting Chelsea and Liverpool taking on Fulham. 

There is one Serie A match on Friday as Bologna host Genoa and on Saturday leaders Inter start things off with a match against Verona. Later on Frosinone host Monza, Lecce take on Cagliari and the evening match is Sassuolo against Fiorentina. AC Milan are in action in the early match on Sunday as they travel to Empoli on a day when most favourites play away from home. Napoli make the journey to Torino and Lazio take on Udinese before Juventus face a trip to bottom placed team Salernitana. The final game of the day sees AS Roma host Atalanta with only a point separating the two teams. 

This weekend is also cup weekend in France with six Coup de France matches taking place on Friday evening. The bigger teams get involved on Saturday with the likes of Brest, Lyon, Lorient and Nice all in action. There is a top flight match on Sunday between Lens and Monaco and PSG play in the final match of the round, away to Revel. 

Copa del Rey provides the entertainment from Spain with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Betis and Real Madrid all in action on Saturday, all playing away from home. There are more top flight teams that will join in on Sunday with the likes of Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Real Sociedad all taking on lower league opposition, as is always the case in the Copa del Rey at this stage. 

A number of leagues are still on their winter break but the Liga Portugal and Turkish Super Lig are both on our screens this upcoming weekend. Highlights include Boavista against FC Porto and Besiktas against Kasimpasa. 

Friday 05/01

Tottenham vs Burnley

Tottenham have gotten over their blip of a couple of weeks ago and are now right back in form, having won four of their last five games. Their list of unavailable players is still significant so this match might offer the chance to rest some of their overworked stars. Burnley will still provide a stern test though, so it’s not a case of being able to play a reserve side. They have a good record at this early stage in the cup, having only been eliminated once at this stage in the last eighteen seasons. They also have an excellent record against Burnley, winning ten of the last eleven matches that they have hosted so they will be optimistic of getting through to the next round.

Burnley made it to the quarter-finals last season before being knocked out by eventual winners Manchester City. This season things are a bit different as they have swapped top of the Championship with a relegation battle in the PL. Whether a cup run will be viewed as an unnecessary distraction or a welcome one will go a long way to determining what sort of team Vincent Kompany puts out for this match. Any sort of positive result will be welcome though, especially given the fact that on their three visits to Tottenham’s new stadium they have lost all three times with an aggregate score of 10-0

Tottenham have won seven of the last ten meetings between the two with Burnley managing two wins. Three of the last four matches have been narrow 1-0 wins but the last meeting, in September, resulted in a big 5-2 away win for Tottenham.

Saturday 06/01

Inter vs Verona

Inter Milan kick off their 2024 fixtures top of the league and very much the team to beat this season in Serie A. They have nine wins from their last twelve matches, although they did drop two points in their last match against Genoa. They have not lost their first calendar match of any year since 2014 and they will certainly be confident of getting the better of a struggling Verona side. Lautaro Martinez is out on his own in the goalscoring charts with fifteen league goals to his name and Inter continue to be the top scorers in the league as well as the side with the best defence. 

This is likely to be a tough assignment for Verona as they are in poor form with only one win in their last five matches. They ended the year with a loss to bottom side Salernitana and are now only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. They have only scored fifteen goals all season, the second lowest in the league behind Empoli. Verona have not won away from home in the league since the first game of the season.

Inter have won all ten of the last ten meetings and the last encounter between these two was a 6-0 away win for Inter. 

Sunday 07/01

Arsenal vs Liverpool

The top tie of the round takes place late Sunday afternoon as this all Premier League clash concludes proceedings on a busy day of cup action. This is a tie that could easily have been a final as it forces the most successful FA Cup team of all time, Arsenal, to play against current league leaders Liverpool. These two met not so long ago, just before Christmas, with the league match ending as a 1-1 draw. Arsenal will be hoping that this tie will be a catalyst for a return to their pre-Christmas form as they have not had a good couple of weeks, losing their last two games and relinquishing top spot. Arsenal have lost only three of their last 49 home FA Cup matches so they will certainly be going into this in a confident mood and Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will also point to the fact that his side have beaten Liverpool in the previous three FA Cup ties between these two teams. 

Liverpool are generally a good cup team and they have managed to get past the third round in twelve of their last thirteen attempts. That being said, not many will have come close to the challenge of an away trip to Arsenal. Liverpool’s recent away form has been impressive, having won three of their last four away from Anfield and they also have a good away record at the Emirates Stadium, where they won three times in a row prior to the 3-2 defeat in the league last season. This will be Liverpool’s first match without Mohamed Salah, who is one of the players who will be missing for a few weeks as he represents his country at the African Cup of Nations, so manager Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that someone can step up and fill in for him. 

The last two meetings between these two have ended in a draw and Arsenal have only beaten Liverpool once in the last ten encounters, whereas Liverpool have five wins in that time span. 

AS Roma vs Atalanta

The final match of the weekend from Serie A comes from the capital as AS Roma take on Atalanta in this clash of two teams battling it out for a European spot. It is Atalanta that currently hold the advantage as they are in sixth spot and one point ahead of their hosts, but a win here could potentially send AS Roma up into fifth spot, above both Atalanta and Bologna. The home side have certainly struggled for consistency this season, much to the frustration of manager Jose Mourinho. They have won less than half of their matches and already have six defeats to their name despite respectable goal scoring and defensive statistics. They have won two of the last five matches, but last time they were narrowly beaten by Juventus. They have six wins from nine home matches and only Inter have scored more goals than them in home fixtures. 

Atalanta have three wins from their last five matches and last time out they managed a narrow 1-0 win over Lecce. Their stats are almost identical to Roma’s with 29 goals scored as compared to Roma’s 30 and both have conceded 20 so far this season. Away form has been a problem though as they only have one win from their last five on the road having lost to Lazio, Bologna and Torino in recent weeks. 

Atalanta won both matches between these two last season and generally have had the upper hand in this fixture in recent times, winning five of the last ten. AS Roma only have two wins in that same time period.