Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: FA Cup 4th round and AFCON final



Domestic league action returns after the extra international break, except that is for England where it’s the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It’s the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.


All times are GMT


Friday

FA Cup fourth round: Manchester United v Middlesbrough
20.00 on ITV
What better way to kick off the weekend than a bit of Friday night FA Cup action? There is a little narrative to make this tie more interesting in that both sides replaced their god-awful managers in the autumn after diabolical runs. Boro’s turnaround under Chris Wilder has been nothing short of remarkable. Indeed, he picked up a manager of the month gong in December, and has only lost once since. They’re also second in the form table with five wins in six. For his part, Ralf Rangnick has steadied the ship at United to an extent, but it’s far from rosy in the red side of Manchester at the moment: the disappointing draw against the struggling (dirty) Mags, a loss to Wolves and a far (far) from convincing win over Villa in the last round of the Cup. Boro didn’t have it their own way in the last round either. Despite being two up inside of fifteen minutes against Macken slayers, Mansfield, it took a 95th minute own goal to send the Smoggies through. With issues off the pitch overshadowing the home side’s preparations, this could be Boro’s night. JB


Saturday

FA Cup fourth round: Kidderminster Harriers v West Ham United
12.30 on BBC One
The magic of the FA Cup gets a little bit more magical when you can raid the archive for some footage of famous historic ties between the clubs involved. Especially if most of the people involved are still around to tel the tale. 1993/94 was a landmark season for Kidderminster, they had their best run in the FA Cup and they won the Conference (although promotion to the League would have to wait another six years because their home ground wasn’t up to the required standards). Their Cup run in 1994 took them to the fifth round where they only narrowly lost out to West Ham in their biggest game ever. Another link on that run in 1994 is the side they eliminated at this stage of the compettition, Preston North End, for whom Hammers head coach David Moyes was playing before taking up the manager role at Deepdale four years later. Starting at the 2nd qualifying round in this year’s competition, Kidderminster have eliminated six teams, including Reading in the third round at the (now enlargened) Aggbrough Stadium. GS


Serie A: Inter v Milan
17.00 on BT Sport 2
Trailing by four points and having played a game more, this could be Milan’s last throw of the dice in chasing down Inter at the top of the Serie A table. At the moment, a sore achilles looks likely to keep Zlatan from his 17th Derby della Madonnina (he’s played six for Inter and ten for Milan). The 40-year-old has blamed the terrible pitch at the San Siro for the damage to his aging joints, which saw him subbed off in Milan’s 0-0 draw with Juventus. Over the international break, the worst affected areas have been replaced, while the bits that aren’t as bad have just been painted green to look better on TV. With the patched-up pitch having to stand up to two home Coppa Italia ties next week, it might be back to its worst in no time. Not that the dodgy pitch seems to have affected Inter. Simone Inzaghi’s side has dropped just two points and conceded just four goals in the ten league games since the sides last met in November. The Saturday 3 embargo means that UK viewers may have to miss the opening fifteen minutes, however there appears to be special dispensation for FA Cup weekends this season, just in case the lunchtime game goes into extra and penalties, so maybe it won’t be in effect for this game. Even if the opening quarter hour isn’t shown, there should still be plenty of entertainment to make up for it. GS


FA Cup fourth round: Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion
20.00 on ITV
Early round all-Premier League ties can often fail to produce much in the way of spectacle. With more pressing matters in the league, sides can often play within themselves and greet getting knocked out of the Cup as a blessing. Current issues of player availability and fixture congestion from multiple postponements will no doubt only compound the malaise that has beset this fine competition. With Brighton comfortably top half in the league table, a good run in the Cup is a luxury Graham Potter’s side can easily afford right now. Having lost fewer games in the league than half of the so-called Big Six (including Spurs) they are hard to beat, as Chelsea have discovered in two 1-1 draws with the Seagulls since just Christmas. In that short space of time Spurs have played Chelsea three times and lost them all without scoring a goal in reply. All of which has taken the shine off of Antonio Conte’s steadying start at the club. If we are to use Conte’s former side as a benchmark for where each side is right now, you’d have to say that Brighton should be favourites. Brighton’s transfer activity looked to the future with new players being loaned out immediately, but Dan Burn’s departure to his boyhood club Newcastle does leave a 6’7" hole in their defence. Having removed themselves of the services of Tanguy Nbombele, Dele Alli, Bryan Gil and Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs could give debuts to their two new midfield signings from Juventus: Uruguayan Rodrigo Bentancur and Sweden’s Dejan Kulusevski. GS


Sunday

FA Women’s Super League: Chelsea v Manchester City
12.30 on BBC Two
Over the past couple of months, Covid dispruption has affected the WSL as much it has in the men’s leagues in England. Many games have been called off and those that have gone ahead have brought some surprising results. Arsenal’s defeat to, at that time, winless bottom-placed Birmingham, followed by a draw against City has reopened the title race. Sam Kerr will bolster Chelsea’s already impressive firepower, having returned to the line-up as a second half substitute in their comfortable League Cup semi-final win against Manchester United on Wednesday, three days after the Matildas were knocked out of the Asian Cup in Pune, India. City also booked their place in next month’s League Cup final at Plough Lane, with an equally straightforward win against Spurs. After a woeful start to the season, by their high standards, that win added to an unbeaten run of nine games. Having welcomed back the likes of Ellen White and Lucy Bronze from injury, Gareth Taylor’s side look far more like the side they should be, but still require snookers if they are to challenge in the league. With Chelsea facing Arsenal next Friday, it’s a huge week that could prove decisive in this season’s WSL. GS


La Liga: Barcelona v Atlético Madrid
15.15 on LaLigaTV
With the transfer window now shut, Barca coach, Xavi, has three new signings, all from the Premier League. Ferran Torres joined from Man City, earlier in the window and hometown boy Adama Traore makes an emotional return from Wolves. But most attention is on Arsenal cast-off Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who rocks up after what turned out to be a bit of a saga. The Gabonese international has gone off the boil but is still capable of finding the net. However, he strikes me as being more of a counter-attacking player. I wonder how he’ll fit into Xavi’s close control, high possession strategy? Such is Barca’s reduced circumstances that the coach is looking to fit round holes into square pegs. Either that or he needs to take a more pragmatic approach. If Barca beat their opponents then they will jump back into the much-needed top-four spot in La Liga. That will not be straightforward. Atleti (who had a very quiet window) are missing some key players in Griezmann, Kondogbia, Llorente and Oblak but are well set to deal with whatever Barca can throw at them. Diego Simeone is trying to evolve his tactics but I think that they’ll look to hit the Catalans on the break and teach Xavi a few lessons. TD


Africa Cup of Nations 2021 final: Senegal v Away
19.00 on BBC Three and Sky Sports Football, Premier League, Main Event & Mix
A cracking tournament draws to a close. We’ve seen great goals, comedy officiating, super-tense penalty shoot-outs, underdogs biting and fallen champions. We have also seen tragedy. Senegal are the slow-burners of the tournament. Solid defensively but didn’t get their scoring boots on until later in the tournament. Only one goal in the group stage but eight in the knock-outs. With just three coming from Liverpool striker and national talisman, Sadio Mane, there have been plenty of goal scorers. In Egypt, they face a battle-weary but hardened side. Their compact shape kept Cameroon at bay and the longer the game went on, the more likely they looked to win on penalties. Mind you the Indomitable Lions spot-kicks were abject. In the end the momentum of being the host nation was not enough and we have our Mane v Salah final. The Pharaohs go into the game having played extra time for the last three matches and without their coach on the touchline. Carlos Quieroz was sent off for allowing the referee to move into his head, for free. Senegal should be the favourites to win their first-ever AFCON trophy but they need to overload the heavy-legged Egyptians, early doors, and try to get an early goal. The longer it goes on, the more nervous The Lions of Teranga will become and the more likely the trophy heads north of the Sahara. TD


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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