FA Cup taking on added importance for United, Chelsea, Spurs

ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 16, 2018 08:29 AM
FA Cup taking on added importance for United, Chelsea, Spurs
Chelsea players applaud the supporters at the end of the Champions League round of sixteen second leg soccer match between FC Barcelona and Chelsea at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

By Steve Douglas, Associated Press

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — For Antonio Conte, it might be a parting gift.

For Jose Mourinho, another title to satisfy his insatiable desire for trophies.

And for Mauricio Pochettino, a belated first title of his career to underline his growing status as one of Europe's brightest young coaches.

There's an added significance to this season's FA Cup for three of English soccer's highest-profile coaches, especially after a sobering week when all of their teams were eliminated from the Champions League.

Last week, Pochettino's Tottenham was downed by a second-half revitalization from Juventus. This week, Mourinho's Manchester United was stunned by Sevilla and Conte's Chelsea undone by the latest clinic from Lionel Messi.

With Manchester City close to wrapping up the Premier League title already, the FA Cup is the only silverware left for Chelsea, United and Tottenham to challenge for. The race for Champions League qualification continues — they are among the four teams battling for three spots behind City — but the FA Cup has also suddenly become a priority.

They have been kept apart in the quarterfinals, which take place this weekend and see United with the most desirable draw.

Mourinho's side is at home against Brighton on Saturday. Losing to Sevilla 2-1 at Old Trafford came as a surprise but getting eliminated by Brighton, which has progressed to this stage for the first time since 1986, would eclipse it.

Having started his tenure at United by winning the League Cup and the Europa League, Mourinho is looking for a third piece of major silverware in two seasons at the club and the 26th trophy of his 18-year coaching career.

There has been criticism of Mourinho's cautious approach this season but a second-place finish in the league and winning the FA Cup would represent a decent second season at United, in terms of results if not performances.

This is also Conte's second year at Chelsea — and it could be his last after an unsettling season in which he has regularly sniped at the club's board for not signing the players he wanted in order to build on winning the Premier League.

This is a chance to win his first cup competition as a manager — Chelsea lost the FA Cup final to Arsenal last season — but the team faces a tough test, with a trip to Leicester on Sunday coming four days after the 3-0 loss at Barcelona.

Barely a week goes by without some sort of discussion in England about how both Pochettino and Tottenham need a trophy to back up their progress. Pochettino has played it down in recent weeks, saying consistent improvement in the Champions League and Premier League is what really matters, but he is coming to the end of his ninth season in coaching and has yet to win a title.

Not helping Tottenham ahead of its trip to Swansea is the loss of Harry Kane to an ankle injury that will sideline the England striker until next month. It might mean a start for Fernando Llorente, who joined Tottenham from Swansea during the offseason.

In the other quarterfinal match, Mark Hughes takes charge of his first game as Southampton manager in an away game against Wigan — the third-tier team that eliminated Man City in the last 16.

Wigan is the only non-Premier League side left in the competition.

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PREMIER LEAGUE

There's a truncated Premier League program because of the FA Cup, and most of the focus is on the fight to avoid relegation.

The bottom three teams are all in action, with last-place West Bromwich Albion eight points from safety with eight games remaining and running out of time.

West Brom visits Bournemouth, which is six points clear of the relegation zone. Next-to-last Stoke is at home against Everton, which is likely one more win from securing its top-flight status for another season. Third-to-last Crystal Palace is at 15th-place Huddersfield, which is four points clear of the bottom three.

The other game sees Liverpool attempt to reclaim third place by beating Watford.

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