Paul Higham takes a look at the FA Cup outright market and fancies the Foxes to make a huge challenge for glory, along with a big run by David Moyes' West Ham.
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There will again be talk of the FA Cup’s star not shining as much as it once did, but there are some big teams and big-name managers this year who may end needing to lift the famous old trophy to call the season a success.
The FA Cup is way below the Premier League, Champions League and even top four finish for the ‘big sides’ but even just a glance over the last three decades tells you that these are still the type of teams that walk off with the trophy.
The same big teams have dominated the last three decades of the FA Cup with Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool winning 25 of the last 31 renewals, while Man City are now regular Wembley winners and start yet another domestic cup competition as favourites.
There are a few more question marks surrounding Pep Guardiola’s men this year though that make the general 3/1 on offer look just too short considering the injuries they’ve sustained.
Guardiola still has more than enough to field a team capable of beating anyone on their day, but with the league and more likely the Champions League the priority it’s a lot more comfortable looking elsewhere for your selection.
And how do we pick a winners of the FA Cup? It’s such a tough one given the manner of the draw – City have benefitted from getting easy runs over the last couple of years and that won’t last, but is shows that even if you have a real fancy they could come unstuck early.
It’s likely you’ll need the perfect storm of a quality team, who has the squad depth to make changes but the appetite for success and the gap in their schedule to make a real push for the trophy.
It’s bemusing at times when middle-of-the-road Premier League teams make changes and obviously discount the FA Cup. Yes, there’s always the danger of ‘doing a Wigan’ but with the proper management of games and squads it’s easy enough to give it a good old go.
Runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool are a generously-priced 6/1 given the air of invincibility that surrounds them at present and of course that’s because they face Everton in the third round - and that they have just one priority this season and that’s ending their title drought.
There’s also the Champions League, but the way they’re going you couldn’t put it beyond them and they’ve got a deep squad. Carlo Ancelotti has had success against them with Napoli though so will have something to say about it this weekend.
All of the usual suspects have chances, but the one standout side that sits among them in the betting is the one that must be the best side to take a chance on – and it’s LEICESTER CITY who we’re backing at a best-priced 14/1.
Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United are all ahead of them in the betting, but I’d take Brendan Rodgers’ men against all three of those teams if they were drawn together, so the fact they’re a bigger price means they’re the obvious choice.
Timings, injuries and the draw all play a part of course, but knowing all that we can know, the Foxes have to rate value at double-figure prices.
They made nine changes recently at West Ham and still won, they’ve cleaned up against the lower sides and have only found Man City and Liverpool out of their league – which is no great shame.
Leicester also don’t have any European football to bother about, and with the 14-point gap they enjoy down to fifth-placed Man Utd they’re all but certainties to finish in the top four.
They’re in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup against Aston Villa and that winning feeling helps carry you through in cup competitions – indeed their fans could well be making multiple trips to Wembley in 2020.
Leicester would be a new name on the FA Cup having never won it before, but they certainly wouldn’t be a surprise name given that they’re now established as the third best side in the league – and it’s not particularly close.
Given a little luck with the draw - i.e. hopefully avoiding City and Liverpool - there's every chance Leicester can go far and no reason they can't, remarkably, complete a clean sweep of domestic trophies since the turn of the century.
Watford, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull and Wigan have all been surprise finalists in the last few years, and for a bit more of an outside punt we’re taking a bigger-priced side to make something of a surprise run.
Everton would be tempting had they not pulled Liverpool out of the hat, Wolves may well prove us wrong and go deep in this one but with the Europa League they’re already stretched. Arsenal could be overpriced right now at 14/1 given their display against Man Utd but Thursday night football is also a consideration to take into account.
Sheffield United have been impressive but I don’t totally trust Chris Wilder to take this so seriously this year and risk upsetting their tremendous start to the season – so instead it’s WEST HAM who get the nod.
David Moyes made an instant impact with the Hammers and it’s clear that for an expensively-assembled group of players they’ve probably been the biggest underachievers of the season, alongside Everton.
If nothing else Moyes will rid them of the prima donna malaise that had crept into the squad and they’ll be working harder and getting fitter every week. The upturn in enthusiasm also comes with players looking to prove themselves and nail down regular starts.
Moyes took Everton to the FA Cup final with a much less talented squad and, with he himself also on an elongated trial spell having been given an 18-month contract, what better way to earn a longer-term deal than to make a big challenge to bring home some silverware?
They may ultimately find someone too good on the day, but they should give us a run for our money and have enough good players that on their day they can send anyone packing.
At 40/1 outright and 13/2 to reach the semi-finals, West Ham look good value to enjoy an excellent FA Cup run - starting at Gillingham on Sunday.
Posted at 1830 GMT on 02/01/19.
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