International

Big teams square off

2017-03-12 06:09
SKILL: Paul Pogba of Manchester United in action during a Premier League match. (Matthew Peters, Man Utd via Getty Images).

Johannesburg - While Chelsea and Manchester United could hardly be enjoying more different Premier League fortunes this season, it bears noting that an FA Cup quarterfinal is the ultimate leveller and that this glamour clash’s outcome is anything but a foregone conclusion.

Ahead of the 2016/17 season, few could have predicted the enormous 16-point difference between likely Premier League champions, Chelsea, and sixth-placed Manchester United with 11 matches remaining.

Be that as it may, former Blues manager José Mourinho has already seen his Red Devils to their first cup victory under his custodianship having beaten Southampton 3-2 in the EFL League Cup final.

This relatively minor domestic success is unlikely to affect the combative Portuguese manager’s desire for further success.

However, he would be desperate to compensate for his side’s dire league performance with two cup victories this season.

The last time Antonio Conte hosted United, his side put an astonishing four unanswered goals past their opponents.

Only goal

In a move that could well have resulted in a managerial spat, the likes of which Mourinho has become synonymous with, the 54-year old reportedly confronted his opposite number for his supposedly exaggerated celebrations.

Whether or not the former Italy boss will have an opportunity to repeat his now famous post-goal antics, remains to be seen, but the neutrals can only hope for a more equal contest this time around.

The form book suggests this may well be the case, with both teams suffering only a single defeat this calendar year.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s return from injury will be a welcome boost for the United midfield.

The Armenian made a rare start against FC Rostov a few days ago, scoring the visitors’ only goal in a 1-all draw. His return will see United travel to London without any major injury concerns.

Eden Hazard’s return to full fitness means that Conte also has the luxury of being able to select a starting XI from a fit squad.

Extend this run

In north London, Tottenham Hotspur will hope to put an end to high-flying League One outfit Millwall’s remarkable cup campaign today (on Sunday).

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side may still be in mathematical contention for the Premier League title this season, but, realistically, the FA Cup remains his only chance to secure his first trophy for the hosts.

Millwall boss Neil Harris has seen his side not only progress to the quarterfinals of the prestigious competition, but has also strung together a remarkable series of results.

The Lions have gone a full 17 matches without loss and the club’s record goalscorer-turned-manager will no doubt be aiming to at least extend this run by one more match.

Tottenham’s Érik Lamela remains sidelined with a troublesome hip injury and Danny Rose is also still unavailable, while the visitors are likely to be without their fifth-round hero, goalkeeper Jordan Archer. – TEAMtalk Media

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