Very little Premier League activity will transpire this weekend, but the FA Cup, approaching a conclusion, will hold its quarterfinal matches from Saturday through Monday.
Bradford City is the lowest-ranking team alive, while Manchester United and Arsenal will represent England’s best.
[RELATED: FA Cup preview]
Here are five story lines coming from the tournament so far.
1. Third-tier Bradford City still going strong—The FA Cup has its underdogs nearly every year, and Bradford City, League One’s eighth-place squad, have spearheaded a storybook run—including wins over Chelsea and Sunderland—that will continue on Saturday vs. Reading. The Bantams have won the Cup only once, and it was over 100 years ago in the 1910-11 season. The winner of Britain’s Military Medal for his service in World War I, inside forward Jimmy Speirs scored the only goal of the match, as City beat Newcastle United 1-0 to secure the title. Since then, only four quarterfinal appearances have highlighted the Bantams’ FA Cup runs, and even if they advance past this round, opponents in England’s top-flight may bear down on them.
2. Gerrard nearing a pleasant conclusion—Steven Gerrard will forever be remembered as an Anfield legend, and while the league title has eluded Liverpool over the years, one final trophy for Gerrard would ease his exit to America, which signifies the final stage of his career. However, Brendan Rodgers’ side may encounter stiff competition—Manchester United or Arsenal the most notable teams. Before they can speak of the future, the Reds must take care of business against Blackburn Rovers, a second-tier side that’s still alive. Rovers knicked out Stoke City in the last round. Liverpool, beware.
3. Premier League big dogs go head-to-head— In 2011, Manchester United and Arsenal faced each other in the quarterfinal. Wayne Rooney and Fabio da Silva scored for the Red Devils en route to 2-0 victory. The Gunners moved on, and then won the Cup last season while United struggled mightily under David Moyes. Now, with the Old Trafford faithful seeing positive results once again, the upcoming Manchester United-Arsenal matchup will feature two of the England’s best teams. One of Louis van Gaal’s highest-scoring forwards, Robin van Persie, a former Gunner, is ruled out due to his month-long ankle injury. For Arsenal, the injured Gabriel Paulista will not play, and a familiar face, Laurent Koscielny, will replace him once again.
4. Will Pulis prove his worth for West Brom? — West Brom wanted former Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis’ “survival instincts” to whisk the Baggies away from relegation, and his squad, at 13th place, is seven points above that pitfall. Also in his favor, WBA last advanced this far in the FA Cup over a decade back. On Saturday, Albion will encounter Aston Villa for the second consecutive time after the pair performed at Villa Park on Wednesday with league implications. Villa boss Tim Sherwood was delighted at its conclusion: a 2-1 victory for his side. The upcoming fixture could present new challenges for each team’s starters, having manned the pitch against the each other so recently.
5. First semi-final since 1927 at stake for Reading— A raucous Valley Parade will welcome Reading in the Cup this weekend, and Bradford City will possess surging underdog status. Reading would enter unfamiliar territory with a win; the Royals have not moved past the quarterfinals for almost 90 years and are far away from the ideal season, as subpar results produced the sacking of manager Nigel Adkins in December. Replacement Steve Clarke has presided over more consistent runs of form but is currently in the midst of a three-game winless streak. The Bantams just rebounded from a similar losing stretch with a 1-0 triumph over Crawley Town, but for now, they can put the chase for a top-six spot at rest.