As I feel most qualified to provide expert advice in subjects about which I know nothing at all, here are my predictions for how the remainder of English soccer’s FA Cup will unfold. I am sure that all individuals intending to gamble upon the outcomes of the upcoming matches will indubitably hang upon every clueless word of this completely random Yank.
No matter which club wins the cup this year, there is one certain outcome: it will be a historic result. For the first time in recent memory, none of the Premier League’s “Big Four,” consisting of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United, have reached the semifinals. The last time a team from outside the big four won the FA Cup was way back in 1995, when Everton won.
On top of that, three of the four teams in the semifinals this year are from outside the top flight of English soccer. There is only one Premier League team remaining, Portsmouth, and the other three remaining competitors are from the second-flight Championship League, Barnsley, Cardiff City, and West Bromwich Albion. You have to go even further back, to 1980, to find the last time a club from outside the top flight won the FA Cup.
The semifinal round matchups stack up thusly: West Bromwich will face Portsmouth April 5, and Barnsley will take on Cardiff City April 6. Both games will be played at Wembley Stadium.
At this point, you basically have to look at Portsmouth, which is sitting in sixth place out of 20 teams in the Premier League right now and knocked off Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford in the quarterfinals to get this far in the tournament, as the likely favorite. However, the team Portsmouth has to play April 5, West Bromwich Albion, is currently in fifth place out of 24 teams in the Championship League and may well be the most consistent over the course of the season of the remaining FA Cup contenders. Sitting just four points back from second place with two fewer games played, WBA has a decent chance of getting promoted to the Premier League for next year. Portsmouth has been very good at home this year and very spotty on the road.
I’m going to go out on a limb on this game and predict that WBA will pull off the upset, 2-1.
As for the Barnsley-Cardiff City game April 6, this one’s a real toss-up. On the one hand, Barnsley, noted for playing in English football’s second tier for more years than any other club in history, is mired all the way back in 18th place in the Championship League with just 11 wins, 15 losses and 13 ties in league play. However, Barnsley has also showed that when the team manages to get all cylinders firing at once, it is fully capable of knocking off the best of the best. You could have said that Barnsley’s knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup round of 16 was a fluke, until Barnsley followed that with a 1-0 quarterfinal win over Chelsea to reach the FA Cup semifinals for the first time since 1912. If these guys again manage to get everything to click, there could be no stopping them. If not, well, you get the idea, based upon their place in the Championship League table.
Then there’s Cardiff City, the team that is actually from Wales, not England, and could throw a huge monkey wrench into English football’s European competition qualification system if it manages to win the FA Cup. The way the rules are set up, the winner of the FA Cup is supposed to receive an automatic berth in the European UEFA Cup tournament. However, that berth is supposed to be for a team from England, the way the rules are now. Because Cardiff City chose to play in English leagues rather than Welsh leagues way back before Europe-wide club competition became a normal thing, the Bluebirds may be left out in the cold if they win the FA Cup. Personally, I think if this Welsh team is good enough to win England’s most prestigious cup tournament, it fully deserves to receive that English UEFA Cup bid, but my opinion, and those of Cardiff City’s fans, in such matters really doesn’t matter to those who make the decisions. Anyway, Cardiff City currently sits in 13th place in the Championship League with 13 wins, 12 losses and 13 ties. I’ve only seen Cardiff City play one time on TV this year; it was their 2-0 demolition clinic on the road against Premier League Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarterfinals. This seems like another team that, when it’s on fire, there could be no stopping it.
Not helping prognostication, Barnsley and Cardiff City have only played each other once so far this season, and it was a 1-1 tie. So, here’s my guess: Barnsley will have a bit more magic fairy dust left for this game than Cardiff City, and the Tykes will squeak by 1-0.
If I’m correct about the semifinals, which is a big if, that would set up an all-Championship League FA Cup title game between West Bromwich Albion and Barnsley. Those teams have played one another twice in the Championship League this year, with WBA winning the first game 2-0 and Barnsley winning the second 2-1. My prediction for the championship game is that it will be where Barnsley’s luck runs out, and WBA will win another 2-0 game for the trophy and a berth in the next UEFA Cup.