With the 135th edition of one of the most famous domestic cup competitions in world football underway, managers across England and Wales will have their eyes on the prize in the hope that their team can go all the way to Wembley. The FA Cup has certainly lost none of its romance over the years, with David versus Goliath clashes providing non-league teams with the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Football League or Premier League opponents.
Lower league managers are always hopeful of drawing a money-spinning tie against an illustrious club and generate revenue that could keep their club in business, but there will be those who have greater aspirations of going far in the competition. Avoiding potential banana skins and receiving an element of luck in the draw can contribute towards a strong FA Cup campaign, but Bradford and Middlesbrough’s victories at Chelsea and Manchester City respectively prove that even the giants can be toppled on any given day. It comes down to who keeps their cool when the pressure is on and is able to produce the quality when it matters on the pitch, with winning the FA Cup undoubtedly a proud moment for any football manager.
Defending champions Arsenal will be looking to equal a long-stand record held by Blackburn Rovers and become the second team in FA Cup history to lift the famous trophy three years in a row. Although punters are likely to back the FA Cup favourites according to the odds on Betway, there is no guarantee that the two Manchester clubs (both 5/1), Chelsea (5/1) and Arsenal (6/1) will go all the way to the final. There are a number of other contenders who could be installed in the “dark horse” category that have as good a chance as any other side in the competition to experience the feeling of euphoria at Wembley by lifting the FA Cup.
Garry Monk continues to enhance his reputation at Swansea through superb acquisitions during the summer transfer window that have made the Welsh side even stronger. They have already made an impressive start to the 2015/2016 Premier League season with two wins and two draws from their opening fixtures – results which include a 2-2 draw at defending champions Chelsea and 2-1 victory at the Liberty Stadium against Manchester United prior to the international break.
Swansea play an attractive brand of football that is not only pleasing on the eye, but also effective in gaining results both home and away. Very few sides will fancy facing Swansea in the FA Cup this season, particularly with Bafetimbi Gomis and new arrival Andre Ayew showing signs of developing a superb partnership upfront. Add Jefferson Montero, who has made an electric start to the season, into the mix and Monk has a team that is more than capable of going all the way.
Crystal Palace (50/1)
It is fair to say that the appointment of Alan Pardew as manager in January has proved to be a masterstroke, with the former Newcastle boss transforming Crystal Palace into a strong Premier League side who could also fancy their chances in the FA Cup. Pardew certainly has previous experience of what it is like to walk out at an FA Cup Final during his playing days with Crystal Palace, and it is this that could spur him on to take his team to Wembley as manager.
Three victories and a defeat has put them second in the Premier League after the opening fixtures in which the Eagles have been hugely impressive, with the 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea undoubtedly the main highlight. Odds of 50/1 would suggest that Betway do not fancy Crystal Palace’s chances of winning the FA Cup, but with match-winners such as Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon already firing on all cylinders, they are certainly a team to keep an eye out for.
Reading and Bradford certainly flew the flag for lower league teams during last season’s FA Cup and proved that there is plenty of quality across the Football League that could, on their day, cause a real upset. Middlesbrough, who are considered among the strong favourites to win the Championship, could be the next team from outside of the Premier League to stand up and be counted in England’s most prestigious cup competition.
Although they lost to eventual winners Arsenal in the Fourth Round, beating Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad was proof, if needed, that Middlesbrough have the ability to mix it with the big boys, with their record-breaking penalty shootout defeat against Liverpool at Anfield in the Capital One Cup further evidence that Aitor Karanka can compete with the very best. Impressive signings during the summer, including Stewart Downing, Cristian Stuani and David Nugent, have increased optimism in Teesside, but the Championship may not be the only competition that Middlesbrough will shine in if the draw is kinder to them this season.