FA Cup Preview: Chance for redemption for Arsenal and Manchester City in rematches

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It’s pretty clear Arsene Wenger would rather have the first one back, but he gets a shot at a bit of redemption this weekend as Arsenal host Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Manuel Pellegrini will get the same opportunity as his side were pegged back in their hunt for the Premier League title by Chelsea, who became the first team to figure out a way to stop the Citizens at the Etihad.

With the competition down to just 16 clubs, many will start seriously thinking about seeing the competition all the way out.

There are just seven lower league teams remaining, and two are guaranteed to be done after this round with four paired together.

Without further ado, let’s take a sneak peak at the matchups scheduled for this weekend:

SATURDAY:

Manchester City vs. Chelsea

Jose Mourinho has done plenty of talking in the past few weeks, and he made sure to include Pellegrini on his list of verbal targets.  No matter Mourinho’s off the field strategies, it worked as his team stopped City’s scorching hot home form in Chelsea’s 1-0 win two weeks ago.

Now, he’ll look to repeat the performance and knock last year’s runners-up out of the competition much earlier.  Samir Nasri could return for Manchester City after five weeks on the sidelines, while defenders Gary Cahill and John Terry are out for Chelsea which could force Branislav Ivanovic into duties in the center of defense.

Cardiff City vs. Wigan Athletic

The cup holders Wigan are still in the competition, and are the only lower-league side to draw Premier League opposition in this round of the cup.

The Latics are on a fantastic run of form, having stopped Sheffield Wednesday’s record-setting Championship streak in convincing fashion.  They haven’t lost an FA Cup match since January of 2012, and have already knocked out Crystal Palace.

Cardiff, meanwhile, have scored just five goals in their last seven matches across all competitions.

Sunderland vs. Southampton

With Jozy Altidore and Sunderland having already booked their place in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, they’re gunning for another top finish in England’s other cup.

Along that road to Wembley, they dispatched Southampton 2-1 at the Stadium of Light, and they’ll have another opportunity to repeat that performance.  These two teams have goals in them, having also played to a 2-2 draw in the league back in January.

Sheffield Wednesday vs. Charlton Athletic

The two clubs are 17th and 20th in the Championship table respectively, and the FA Cup will give the lower-league sides a much-needed break from their disappointing league seasons.

Charlton are currently on a six-match winless streak in the Championship. They have won an FA Cup before, all the way back in 1947.  Sheffield would make the sixth round for the first time since 1997 with a win.

SUNDAY:

Arsenal vs. Liverpool

The Reds reinserted themselves into the title conversation with an impressive 5-1 win over Arsenal last weekend.  Arsene Wenger claims the Gunners now have that “out of their system,” but there’s no question they’d do themselves a favor with a bit of redemption.

With the match at the Emirates this time around, the Gunners will have their home fans to back the performance, and they’ll want to prove last weekend was an anomaly, as Jose Mourinho took the opportunity to point out Wenger’s failures over the years following the loss.

Everton vs. Swansea City

Swansea draw another Premier League side on the heels of knocking out Manchester United in the fourth round.  This will be the first time these two sides face off in the FA Cup since 1957, when Everton won handily over Second Division Swansea 3-0.  It will be the Swans’ first cup match under new manager Garry Monk.

Sheffield United vs. Nottingham Forest

Sheffield United remain the only third tier club left in the competition, as they take on Championship foes Nottingham Forest.  Having defeated Fulham in the previous round, Blades manager now faces the club he scored 131 goals for as a player.  His father also managed Forest to European Cups in 1979 and 1980.

MONDAY:

Brighton Hove & Albion vs. Hull City

Into the fifth round for only the second time in the past 20 years, Brighton are managed by former Barcelona youth manager Oscar Garcia.  They face a Hull City side whose manager Steve Bruce has only progressed past the fifth round of the FA Cup once ever.

Both of Hull City’s strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long are unavailable due to both being cup tied.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.