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Thursday, 16th February 2012
This weekend is the fifth round of the FA Cup and we have five tough looking live matches to get stuck into. The first is at Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime as Chelsea entertain my old club Birmingham. I'm really scratching my head as to what is going on at Chelsea at the moment. They have so many good players in the squad and in reality they should be challenging at the top of the Premier League, but so many of them are underperforming for whatever reason. Much is made of Fernando Torres not scoring goals but he's barely getting a sniff the way Chelsea are playing so I don't think all the blame should be laid at his door.
The art of good management is to try an win every game and get the best out of what you have got and this clearly isn't the case at Chelsea. Andres Villas Boas will no doubt be feeling the pressure and having the owner attend training six days in a row is not a good sign.
This won't be an easy game for Chelsea against a Birmingham side who are in good form and have taken these cup games in their stride this season. If Chelsea play the way they did against Everton last weekend then Birmingham have an outstanding chance. However, this is make or break time for Chelsea in the sense that you'd be surprised if they were to win the Champions League so I can see them having enough quality to win this 2-1, at odds of 9/1 with Ladbrokes.
Saturday's evening kick off is Sunderland v Arsenal at the Stadium of Light. You have to say this should be a great time to be playing Arsenal and I thought Sunderland were a touch unlucky to have lost the game between the two in the Premier League a week ago. The question on Saturday is what do Arsenal have left in them after their demoralising 4-0 defeat in Milan on Wednesday. I was impressed with AC Milan but it was a poor performance by Arsene Wenger's side and they will have to dig deep to get something out of this weekend's game.
There wasn't much between these two sides last week and you can be sure that Martin O'Neill goes with a strong line-up. I can't see Arsenal winning the match and will probably lay them on the day if the price is right. I get the feeling they could nick a draw however so I'm tipping up a 1-1 correct scoreline at odds of 6/1 with Coral.
There are three live games back to back on Sunday afternoon, with Crawley versus Stoke the first up at midday. Crawley got smashed midweek at Swindon but they're an excellent side at League Two level. I'm not entirely sure what effect losing top scorer Matt Tubbs in the transfer window will have on the team but I expect them to be there or thereabouts when it comes to promotion in May. This should be a good game, with Stoke taking the match seriously after reaching the final last year. I can see it being a tight match with just the odd goal seperating the sides. Tony Pulis's side should be too strong however and he knows what it takes to win at this level, so I'm going for a 1-0 Stoke win at odds of 7/1 with Bet365.
Tottenham travel to Stevenage in Sunday's second match, with Harry Redknapp's side long odds on to get the win. Much like the Crawley/Stoke game I think this will be another tight encounter with perhaps just the one goal in it. In fact, it might be an idea to check the asian handicap markets as if either Crawley or Stevenage are given two goal head-starts on the handicap then they could be a decent bet.
Like all the teams from lower divisions playing this weekend, Stevenage are on a good run of form and they have a good new manager in Gary Smith who knows his stuff. I always get the feeling that when Spurs change their team around for these kind of games they're never quite the same and they were a touch fortunate to scrape past Watford in the last round when playing poorly.
Harry Redknapp's side should be too strong however and the 8/1 about a 2-1 correct scorerline in Spurs' favour looks a decent bet with Coral.
Finally Liverpool face Brighton for the second time in cup competitions this season in the late Sunday kick-off. Liverpool knocked Brighton out of the Carling Cup last August on their way to reaching the final later this month and with home advantage I expect them to do the same on Sunday.
Brighton are another team in good form, winning well away at Leeds last weekend and Gus Poyet seems to have got them back on track in the Championship after a sticky patch. The Cup's could very well be the saviour for Liverpool this year, having spent £130m in the last year to be only sitting seventh in the Premier League is not what the doctor ordered. I'm not sure Kenny Dalglish has found the right formula for his team yet and they lack a cutting edge, especially at Anfield. They should be too strong here though in what could be another tight game, so I'm plumming for a 2-1 home win at odds of 9/1 with Ladbrokes.
This weekend's FA Cup ties look really tight to me this weekend and although all of the Premier League teams featured against lower opposition are long odds on favourites to win, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we did see an upset along the line.
Steve Claridge's Weekend FA Cup Tips
Tip #1: Chelsea v Birmingham (18th Feb 2012) Chelsea to win 2-1 @ odds of 9/1 with Ladbrokes.
Tip #2: Sunderland v Arsenal (18th Feb 2012) 1-1 correct score @ odds of 6/1 with Coral.
Tip #3: Crawley v Stoke (19th Feb 2012) Stoke to win 1-0 @ odds of 7/1 with Bet365.
Tip #4: Stevenage v Tottenham (19th Feb 2012) Spurs to win 2-1 @ odds of 8/1 with Coral.
Tip #4: Liverpool v Brighton (19th Feb 2012) Liverpool to win 2-1 @ odds of 9/1 with Ladbrokes.
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