We head into the Final Four of the FA Cup with the two games taking place at Wembley this weekend. The first stop for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea is Saturday’s clash with four-time winners Manchester City. On Sunday, 4,000 fans will be in attendance when Leicester City take on Southampton.
ESPN tells you everything you need to know for this week’s semifinals, including where the games will be won or lost, key players and predictions on the winner.
Review: Chelsea’s fourth-round victory over Luton Town in the snow in January was Frank Lampard’s last game. He was sacked two days later and replaced by former Paris coach Saint-Germain Tuchel, who has made a remarkable debut as Chelsea manager. He has lost just one game – a bizarre 5-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge – and has built a defensively strong team that aims to make opponents as claustrophobic as possible. The Blues are still in the running for a top-four finish in the Premier League and are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League after beating Porto 2-1.
Tuchel has yet to play at City as Chelsea coach, but he knows Pep Guardiola well. He met him when he was trainer of Mainz and then of Borussia Dortmund at the helm of Bayern Munich, and the two men have kept in touch. Earlier in March, Tuchel said he had learned everything from Barcelona’s Guardiola and that he had a great influence on his philosophy. But there will be little room for sentimentality when they meet on Saturday.
City remain in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after an incredible 4-2 win over Dortmund. The Carabao Cup final will be held on the 25th. April takes place. Guardiola is looking to get back to winning the FA Cup with 11 points at the top of the table, which he has won just once since joining City in 2016.
Chelsea secured a place in the semi-finals with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United, while Manchester City beat Everton FC 2-0 at Goodison Park to keep their hopes of the title alive.
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Where Chelsea will win or lose: Chelsea will be well structured and try to control possession of the ball. But that crushing loss against WBA showed that no matter how well prepared they are, they can still capitulate if their opponent manages to create attacking chaos. Chelsea seemed susceptible to crosses, and there is often space at the back on the flanks if the attacking wingers are not put in position further up the pitch.
Timo Werner’s problems in front of goal continue, but Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz impress and pose a threat in attack. It will all depend on how the one-two of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho or N’Golo Kante can dictate the action from midfield.
Where Manchester City will win or lose: Manchester City are less rested at halftime with their Champions League quarter-final in Germany on Wednesday. Fatigue is a potential problem that City can overcome as the hunt for trophies with four teams can be exhausting, but expect Guardiola to tailor his team accordingly. City have only failed to score once this year (against Manchester United in March), so expect them to test Chelsea’s defence.
They can sometimes seem nervous when trying to score, and Chelsea will have noticed how Leeds managed to beat them 2-1 last weekend when they only had ten men on the pitch. They effectively built a wall in front of their goal, giving City’s defenders time on the ball but preventing them from creating more attacking chances, and then they hit the post by playing just over City’s back line.
N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic will have the unenviable task of slowing down Raheem Sterling and Man City on Saturday. Photo: Sean BOTTERILL/BENZOLA/AFP via Getty Images
Lead actors: Mason Mount is the heart of this Chelsea team and one of the best players in the Premier League. English ranks sixth in xA (expected assist) with 5.49 and has created the third-most chances (73). Pulisic is playing well with three goals in two Premier League games and was named man of the match for his two-goal performance against Crystal Palace last Saturday. But Chelsea will need to contain City’s creative force, so Kante will be essential, as will defensive stability, with Cesar Azpilicueta the man for the job. They will try to surprise City with counters, so look out for Werner, Havertz and Hakim Ziyeh.
For City, Ruben Diaz has played a key role in strengthening the defence and, no matter who he plays with, he is an integral part of everything they do well. Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker are probably the best full-back duo in the Premier League right now, while midfielder Ilkay Gündogan is in the best form of his life. But Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are at the heart of everything that goes right at City. De Bruyne has scored five goals in his last six games for City, while Foden scored an impressive goal against BVB on Wednesday. Chelsea know they have to stop this game if they want to eat well on Saturday.
Prediction: It will be a case of nerves and goals, with the possibility of extra time, but we are betting on City to win and take the four points.
Review: Both teams come into this game with a loss, but with different perspectives and goals for the rest of the season. Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City remain firmly entrenched in the Champions League despite losing 3-2 against West Ham United at the weekend. But there were also problems off the field last week when three of their players were denied a trip to West Ham for breaching COVID-19 protocol. Hamza Chowdhury and James Maddison missed this match after reports that they had attended a party at Ayose Perez’s house. The trio returned this weekend, but it was a distraction Rogers could have missed.
Southampton are free agents at the moment. Ralph Hasenhuttle’s team lost 3-0 to West Brom last weekend and have lost 11 of their last 14 games in the top division. Hasenhuttle has warned his players that if they play like they did against WBA against Leicester, they have no chance of going through after what he described as a miserable performance against Sam Allardyce.
Leicester secured a place in the last four with a 2-1 win over Manchester United, while Southampton beat Bournemouth 3-1. This match has the advantage of being played in front of a crowd of 4,000 at Wembley. This is one of the government’s test events to bring in a large crowd this summer.
Where Leicester City will win or lose: Leicester lost two games in two after the international break and lacked the intensity that helped them beat United in the quarter-finals last weekend before the break. They have good field position but seem vulnerable at the back.
They are used to dominating ball possession and territory and will likely get a lot of time on the ball this weekend. They also have one of the Premier League’s most in-form players right now in Kelechi Iheanacho, who has scored nine goals in six games. The omens are good for the Foxes – they have never lost a treble in a row under Rodgers – but they will need the whole team to pull themselves together after a difficult week on and off the pitch as they play their first FA Cup semi-final since 1982.
Can Brendan Rodgers lead Leicester Sia to their first FA Cup final since 1969? Plumbing/Lester City FC via Getty Images
Where Southampton will win or lose: Southampton 2021 was bad. The hegemonic, loose, rock ‘n’ roll football we saw in the latter stages of the 2020 season has given way to chaotic and frustrating performances in the league. But their FA Cup form is more than that. They were great in the quarter-final against Bournemouth – with an excellent Nathan Redmond – and they were hoping to ride that wave into the semi-finals on Sunday, but were brought back down to earth by the WBA.
Confidence could be a big issue on Sunday, given his recent form. Che Adams and James Ward-Prowse have maintained their form at the highest level, but too many of their teammates have seen their form plummet since the start of the year. If Southampton are back to their best in mid-season (as we saw in the win over Liverpool in January), then Danny Ings (whose future at St Mary’s is increasingly in question as his contract runs until 2022), Adams and Ward-Prowse could give Leicester some headaches. However, a consistent team performance will be needed to reach their first FA Cup final since 2003.
Lead actors: Iheanacho is currently playing superbly for Leicester and his two goals helped them to a 3-1 win over United in the quarter-finals. Yuri Thielemans is very well placed in midfield and plays alongside Wilfred Ndidi. So we can expect them to have a lot of ball possession on Sunday. They will likely be without Harvey Barnes this weekend, but should be a disciplined trio again. Also watch Wesley Fofana in defence as the young French defender has been one of the players of the season and has seen his stocks rise.
Ward-Prowse is a key weapon in Southampton’s arsenal and leads the Premier League with four goals from free kicks this season. He is their team coordinator and has contributed the most assists (five) in the league, has the second most ground balls (234) and has his sixth assist attempt (2022 in the Premier League). Igs has already scored nine goals this season, not to mention, while Adams is also impressive in attack. Redmond finally found his form and went three on three, while centers Jan Bednarek and Yannick Westergaard were solid.
Prediction: Leicester City should be too strong for the Saints to qualify for their first FA Cup final since 1969. They will have to come back from a difficult week, but they will live up to their role as favourites.