FA Cup Semi Final Betting Preview
April 5, 2019
People claim the magic of the cup is gone, but when Wembley beckons there is undeniable electricity in the air. For the first time in a few years, only one of the Premier League’s ‘elite’ make the final four, meaning there’s a chance of silverware for some of the more unfancied teams in the division. There’s a lot to get through so let’s jump straight in.
Manchester City vs Brighton
There’s no doubt as to who the favourite is in this tie. Manchester City currently sit at the summit of the Premier League and are still involved in every competition this season. Since the turn of the new year, they have been banging in goals for fun and have been rock solid at the back. Their most recent game came in mid-week against struggling Cardiff, a 2-0 victory but it could have been a lot more. Few teams dictate games like City can and their relentless attack has proven too much for the vast majority of teams that have faced them.
Brighton’s form is not as impressive. They head into the match on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea, a team City thrashed 6-0 in their previous Premier League meeting, and their performances prior to that have been mediocre at best. The good news for the coastal side is that they have players capable of producing something special, especially on such an important day for the club.
Anthony Knockaert, in particular, has provided a bright spark in some major matches this season, not least in Brighton’s heated game against Crystal Palace where he scored a certified screamer. The Seagulls will have to hope for a similar moment of magic if they want to make it to a dream final.
Quadruple Looking Evermore Likely
City are currently experiencing an injury crisis in defence, with essentially the entire left side out for the game against Brighton. In their midweek game against Cardiff, the Blues’ left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko suffered a hamstring injury that has ruled him out for the semi-final. Despite his impressive form in recent weeks, which saw him win the Etihad Player of the Month award in February, he’s naturally a midfielder and was already a makeshift replacement in the backline, an indicator of how shorthanded they are in that area already. Pep’s philosophy heavily relies on the strength of his fullbacks and their ability to effectively support the offence. This leaves the City manager with a tricky situation to sort out.
Fabien Delph, another midfielder turned left-back, is also out through injury. Could this mean a return to the starting line-up for French superstar Benjamin Mendy? Potentially, but there are still lingering doubts over his fitness and recent reports of the Frenchman clubbing until the early morning the night before a Premier League match will do him no favours. Aymeric Laporte has been deployed on the left before, but he has been far and away City’s best central defender this season. While he can do the job at left-back, he lacks the blistering pace and offensive awareness that is needed for Pep’s system and the team will have to adapt if he does start there.
The most likely option would see Brazilian Danilo start on the left-hand side. While the ex-Madridista doesn’t have the superstar appeal of his teammates, he has proven to be more than useful on both the left and the right. I’d be surprised if he didn’t start on Saturday, though City won’t want any more blows to the defence ahead of a tough few weeks. This leaves Kyle Walker as the only other recognised fullback in the side and, barring a last-minute injury, will certainly start alongside Danilo. Laporte has formed a fearsome partnership with John Stones but both started in the midweek game and, with an important Champions League games against Tottenham coming up, I don’t think they’ll start together this weekend.
Instead, I think Stones will start, partnered with one of City’s other centre-back options. Vincent Kompany’s Wembley experience, combined with his inspiring leadership, will be enough to earn the nod over Nicolas Otamendi. In front of the defence, midfield general Fernandinho will be counted on to provide a degree of stability and help transition between defence and attack. Phil Foden made the first Premier League start of his career against Cardiff but I’d be surprised if he made the starting line-up against Brighton. The two Silvas, David and Bernardo, have formed a formidable partnership in midfield this season. There are few players in the world who can manipulate and pull apart a team like they can and, after being rested midweek, should be included in the starting line-up.
That just leaves the attack and there’s one noticeable absence here too for the Blues. It looks like the mercurial Sergio Aguero won’t be fit in time for the game, which means the young Gabriel Jesus will be called upon to fill in for the Argentine. Jesus has had a difficult season and hasn’t had a significant run of games in-form.
At one point in his City career, there was talk of him usurping Aguero as the club’s number one, but now he is undeniably the understudy. His league form hasn’t been the greatest, having scored a disappointing six goals in twenty-five matches, but in the various cups, he’s been ruthless. He’s netted four in five in the Champions League, five in five in the Caraboa Cup and two in four in the FA Cup. Against Cardiff, he wasted a few easy chances, but his commitment to tracking back and overall work ethic was still there. He’s very much a confidence player though and the Wembley setting may be enough to get him back in the scoring mood.
City have a wealth of options on the wings, but I’d be shocked if Raheem Sterling wasn’t included on one of the flanks. The young Englishman has really raised his profile this season, both on the pitch and off it. He’s become something of a role model, tackling social issues in football and beyond. On top of that, Sterling is starting to look like a genuine world class player with 19 goals and 16 assists in all competitions this season. If Sterling is City’s top player right now, then Leroy Sane is a close second. After a rocky start to the season, the German international has been on fire, making chances and finishing a fair few himself. The importance of the pace and clinical ability these two afford this Manchester City side cannot be overstated and I’m certain both will start on Saturday.
The Huge Underdogs
Brighton’s starting line-up is slightly more straightforward to predict. They don’t have the squad depth that City have and, where City have a run of arguably more important games after this, this is probably the biggest match of Brighton’s season. As such, they won’t be resting any of their players and the squad will be as strong as it possibly can be.
In goal, who other than Australian shot stopper and FPL bargain Mat Ryan. He’ll most likely have to rely on Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk’s partnership at centre-back, with ex-Barcelona fullback Martin Montoya and Brazilian Bernardo starting alongside them. They’re certainly in for a busy afternoon against a very strong City side, so I’d be surprised if Brighton manager Chris Houghton made any drastic changes from his favoured backline.
The first name on the team sheet in midfield should Davy Propper, who’s been a titan in the centre for Brighton this season. Pascal Groß will be in there with him to help solidify the unit, while Bissouma should be started to provide an attacking output. The wide players will have a lot to do, not just in trying to flank City’s backline, but also in coping with the inevitable onslaught brought on by City. We’ve already spoken about Knockaert’s ability and he’s as close to a guaranteed starter as you’re going to get, but Alireza Jahanbakhsh is no slouch either and should also make the line-up.
Glenn Murray has been in great form this season, having reached double figures in league goals and providing a focal point for the attack. The veteran striker is exactly the kind of player Brighton need for this match as well, someone who can overpower City’s defence, using physicality rather than finesse to do the damage.
When Brighton last played against Manchester City in the FA Cup in 1983, they thrashed them 4-0 on their way to the final. Unfortunately for the Seagulls, I don’t think we’re going to see a repeat of that in this match. The FA Cup is one of the few trophies Pep hasn’t won and there is sentimental value in it for City as well. It was their first major honour in 36 years when City won it in 2011 and the springboard that launched all their future successes. It’s a competition they will want to win and City will go all out to do so.
3-0 Manchester City
Watford vs Wolves
Wolves have been nothing short of sensational this season and their return to the Premier League has been more successful than even the most fervent supporter could have imagined. The biggest compliment you can pay this Wolves team is that they can beat anyone in the league on their day. They’ve proven that time and time again.
They caused Manchester City to drop their first points of the season and beat Manchester United, not once, but twice! Their manager has really crafted a good team and not just a capable side. You can see the chemistry between the players and how each one serves a specific function in this side.
With that said, Watford have been no slouches either though. They’ve recorded their highest ever points tally this season at 46 and are only one point away from Wolves. While they’ve had a kinder run in than Wolves, they are certainly a match for the Midlands side and have already beaten them once this season, a 2-0 victory at Molineux in October. Wolves have a bit more flair about them, but Javi Garcia knows his side’s strengths and they have every chance of taking something from this match.
Looking For That First Ever FA Cup
Javi Garcia’s side have a few fitness concerns to deal with. The biggest worry for him will be the status of Roberto Pereyra, who had to come off in their most recent match against Fulham with a hip problem. Isaac Success and Adalberto Penaranda are also doubts with knee and hamstring injuries respectively. Tom Cleverly is also struggling with a calf issue, though will probably be fit in time for the match.
Outside of possible absentees, Watford still have a squad capable of progressing to the final. Up top, club legend Troy Deeney will be relied upon to bring the attacking threat, with Gerard Deulofeu alongside hoping to set up the chances. Garcia has used a midfield of two holders and two creators this season and I think we’ll see that here. If Pereyra is fit he will start, though this is far from guaranteed, and he’ll be joined by Will Hughes.
Behind them will sit a solid partnership of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue. The latter brings a wealth of experience, but Doucoure has the potential to change the match if he’s on top form. The Frenchman isn’t just highly skilled at retrieving the ball, he can add an offensive dimension to the side as well and has chipped in with 5 goals and 5 assists this season.
At the back, Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa have been a constant all year for Watford, so Garcia won’t want to change the formula for a game as important as this. Jose Holebas has a had a good season for the Wasps and has earnt a place in the semis, while Kiko Femenia should join him. Between the sticks, Garcia has a decision to make. Ben Foster is the undisputed number one and has started every premier league game of the season. However, Heurelho Gomes has started every cup game for Watford and is retiring at the end of the season. A FA Cup semi-final would be a wonderful send off to a well-liked player, but can Garcia risk potential glory for sentiment?
Glory Days Returning to Molineux?
Wolves are not only the stronger side in terms of raw ability, they’re also fairing much better on the injury front. There are no major fitness issues for manager Nuno Espirito Santo and he will almost certainly put out all the big names. One man who’s almost guaranteed to start is striker Raul Jimenez, who has been a revelation this season. As of right now, the Mexican is on loan from Portuguese side Benfica but reports say that could soon change as a fee of around £32 million has been agreed for his permanent transfer. If so, there would be no better way to mark the transfer than securing Wolves place in the FA Cup final for the first time in 59 years.
Attacking midfielder Diego Jota will most likely be deployed up top with him, though he’ll operate as the creator rather than the finisher. Nuno likes to play a five-man midfield to really pack the central areas of the pitch and I can’t see that changing here. Ruben Neves will be the first name picked as the young Portuguese has become a vital part of the Wolves set-up. Veteran Joao Moutinho will start alongside him, with on-loan holding mid Leander Dendoncker completing the centre. Jonny Otto and Matt Doherty will operate in the wing back positions to provide width and also that little extra bit of security.
That leaves the defence, a three-man centre back partnership. Englishman Conor Coady has been immense this season and should be included in the starting line-up. Ryan Bennet has recently come back from 2-match suspension and will most likely start as well, while Willy Boly will slot in to finish of the trio. In goal, the ever-dependable Rui Patricio will be called upon once again to safeguard his side.
This is a much tighter match to call then City vs Brighton as these teams are near inseparable in terms of their form this season. That said, despite the statistical similarities, Nuno’s Wolves suit big games. They’ve proved time and time again this season that they can deal with the pressure that comes on an occasion such as this and that will serve them well. They generally employ a more explosive style of play and I think they might have a slight advantage this weekend. That said, it won’t be a runaway victory as Watford are defensively sound.
Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.