The 2021 FA Cup is reaching the business end, with the last weekend of action before the March international break seeing the quarter-finals of this famous old competition take place. There are no genuine minnows left, meaning we won’t see any of the biggest FA Cup upsets this weekend, but there are some top notch ties.
Everton’s thrilling win over Tottenham in the last round was one of the most memorable ties of recent memory and there should be some more cup crackers in the last eight. Here are the key players who will play pivotal roles in the 2021 FA Cup quarter-finals.
FA Cup Quarter-Finals 2021 – One key player per team
Bournemouth vs. Southampton
A south-coast battle between two out-of-form sides kicks things off, with Bournemouth surely fancying their chances of knocking out their plummeting neighbours Southampton. They could become one of the biggest surprise FA Cup winners should they win the entire thing.
Junior Stanislas is having the best year of his career at the age of 31, contributing 10 Championship goals from midfield. Able to score from a range of angles on either foot, containing Stanislas will be one of the main challenges facing the Saints defence here. Stanislas netted in the last round, converting a penalty to wrap up a 2-0 win away to his old side Burnley.
Having lost 10 of their last 12 Premier League games, a change of competition might be just what Southampton need to break out of their bad spell. They do at least have one player in good form ahead of the short trip to Bournemouth. Che Adams has scored in three league games in a row, filling in admirably for the injured Danny Ings, who is a doubt for Saturday’s tie against his boyhood team. Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl recently compared Adams to a ketchup bottle that has become unblocked. He will be hoping the goals continue to flow from the striker.
Everton vs. Manchester City
Maybe the most enticing clash of the 2021 FA Cup quarter-finals, champions-elect City’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple takes them to Goodison Park, where Everton have taken just four points from seven league games since the turn of the year.
The Toffees badly missed Allan during his recent absence but the midfielder has looked a little rusty and off the pace since returning from a few weeks out with a hamstring injury. Allan was beaten too easily by Dwight McNeil for the winger’s wondergoal at the weekend and he will have to be back to his best if Everton are to see off the threat of a rampant City side this weekend.
FA Cup winners just once in the last nine years, City have scored three times in all three of their ties so far this season. Joao Cancelo has been revelatory for Pep Guardiola’s side in recent months, becoming the Catalan’s latest project full-back, following in the footsteps of the likes of Joshua Kimmich. Cancelo has played in just about every outfield position for City this season and it is impossible to predict where the Portugal international is going to pop up next. Knowing Guardiola’s unpredictable rotation policy, though, he might well start this one on the bench.
Chelsea vs. Sheffield United
Sunday’s twin ties kick off at Stamford Bridge, where Sheffield United will be hoping to salvage some pride from a campaign that is virtually certain to end with Premier League relegation.
Thomas Tuchel’s appointment has led to Chelsea’s leaky defence being plugged, but they have issues at the other end with just four goals scored in their last five league games. This game will surely be a chance for Tammy Abraham to shine, with the England international mostly watching on from the sidelines since Frank Lampard’s departure. Abraham is the joint-top scorer in this season’s FA Cup with four goals, the striker having hit the winner in a narrow victory at Barnsley and a hat-trick to down Luton Town.
The cup has provided a rare spark of joy for the Blades this term and they will need a reaction after losing 5-0 at Leicester City in the first game since Chris Wilder’s surprise departure. Replacing Dean Henderson has been a tall task for Aaron Ramsdale this season and he has often struggled. But the young goalkeeper was brilliant against Liverpool recently, showing the agility and sharp reactions that persuaded United to pay a reported £18.5 million to bring him back to the club. If the Blades are to have any chance of causing what would be a sizable shock on Sunday, they are going to need England Under-21 stopper Ramsdale to be at his very best.
Leicester City vs. Manchester United
The other contender to be the tie of the round sees two of the Premier League’s top three face off, with Leicester hoping to win the tournament for the first time. They have not even reached the final since 1969 whereas United have won the FA Cup 12 times in their history, most recently in 2015–16.
Wilfred Ndidi is key to abolishing their cup hoodoo. The Nigeria midfielder is arguably one of the Premier League’s most under-rated players, providing a rock-solid base in the heart of the team that allows the creative talents around him to shine. With United likely to try to hit Leicester on the break, Ndidi’s mastery of positioning and telescopic tackling will be vital for the Foxes.
United’s away record has been superb this term, but the goals have been drying up for them of late. They needed a Craig Dawson own goal to squeeze out a victory over West Ham and avoid drawing a blank for the third time in four league games at the weekend. Marcus Rashford’s lack of form is becoming a concern for the Red Devils with the England striker missing a simple header against the Hammers from a sublime Mason Greenwood cross. Rashford needs to step up and deliver the goods for his side, if they are to progress further than the quarter-finals in the 2021 FA Cup.
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