Lampard striving for confidence in Chelsea
The Blues consistently struggle to break teams down and create clear-cut chances, while there has been little progress in the transfer market. Lampard’s commitment to offering opportunitues to young players may have to take a back seat this weekend given the precarious nature of their season.
A morale-boosting win is needed at Hull given the upcoming matches at Leicester and then home games against Manchester United and Tottenham. The only semblance of calm around the club is due to the six-point cushion to fifth place, but this daunting run could see that evaporate quickly.
Look here for Marcos Alonso to come back in for the struggling Emerson, which offers both rotation and a look into a longer term option for the coming weeks. While Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori can also stake claims given Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen’s form. Lampard may look to switch up the system too, with Reece James nearing a return from injury, a back three could provide a more stable base and allow more options in the final third with the ball. Look for any changes to players and tactics to be a preview to how Lampard handles this mini-crisis ahead of a pivotal couple of weeks leading up to the last 16 Champions League tie with Bayern.
Bellingham’s star continues to soar
Jude Bellingham might be English football’s hottest property right now with speculation that Manchester United have bid £30m for the Birmingham midfielder.
A box-to-box player with both power and subtle touches in his game, another glimpse of his outrageous potential will be on display at St Andrew’s, where the Blues are bizarrely the away team against Coventry in this tie.
The 16-year-old brings intrigue to a tie that might otherwise be an afterthought, with each Blues game now a compelling look at one of the stars of the future.
Solskjaer aiming to fend off the vultures
A new nadir arrived in the home defeat to Burnley as Manchester United continue to spiral out of control under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
A cup exit will only exacerbate an already precarious situation for Solskjaer, who will be desperately striving for both a win and form in this tie against Watford/Tranmere.
With progress slow in the transfer window, Solskjaer will be pinpointing certain players to demonstrate their worth to him here: Mason Greenwood will surely return to the XI, while Anthony Martial, in particular, must step up given the pressure on him to justify last summer’s sale of Romelu Lukaku. Jesse Lingard could oust Juan Mata as United’s No 10 too, with Solskjaer’s team selection set to reveal plenty about how he sees this team in the weeks ahead, which could prove critical to his job security.
Spurs need to arrest poor St Mary’s form
Three days after Christmas, midway through the 2016/17 season, Spurs traveled to St Mary’s and ran riot, conceding an early goal to Virgil van Dijk but battling back through a Dele Alli brace, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to win 4-1. It was a run that kick-started a fine run of form which saw Spurs finish second in the Premier League, but since then Spurs have not been happy visitors to the south coast.
They drew their the next season and have lost twice since – most recently slipping to a lackadaisical 1-0 defeat on New Year’s Day earlier this month. They will head to the fixture as the bookmakers favourites and in high spirits having ended their Premier League winless run by beating Norwich, but Southampton have been in fine form over the festive period, beating both Chelsea and Leicester as well as Spurs. Do not be surprised to see them progress to the fifth round at Jose Mourinho’s expense.
Jones set for latest chance to shine
Jurgen Klopp’s kids did him proud against Everton and a trip to Shrewsbury offers another look at one of the few doubts at Anfield this season.
With the first team rolling, there is little need for the academy to force their way into contention, but the longevity of the Reds’ success may depend on at least a couple of youngsters blossoming into stars. Namely, Curtis Jones, whose exquisite strike settled the third round tie.
His ambition is to play more, even in perhaps the best side in Europe, so, should he prove himself as a match-winner once more here, it will make it that much more difficult for Klopp to overlook him on a weekly basis. Nathaniel Phillips, Neco Williams, Harvey Elliott, Ki-Jana Hoever and Yasser Larouci could all be handed a chance here too.
FA Cup respite comes at welcome time for injured Vardy and his replacements
Leicester's win over West Ham on Wednesday night came at a cost. The sight of Jamie Vardy crumpled on the turf, clutching the back of his leg, will have raised major concern at the club. Manager Brendan Rodgers confirmed afterwards it was "not his hamstring", but it remains unclear how long the talismanic Vardy will be absent for.
On the upside, this weekend's FA Cup clash against Brentford gives Leicester's other forwards the opportunity to raise their hand without the pressures of the Premier League weighing on them while Vardy recovers. For the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ayoze Pérez, this is a chance to fill the void and demonstrate that, for all Vardy's worth, this team can continue to function without his presence. Both players have already showed their talents this season, but the coming run of fixtures is something to be embraced, not feared.
Nketiah presented with sliding doors moment
How a month can change perspectives. When the pair last met on Boxing Day, Mikel Arteta was taking charge of Arsenal for the first time. Eddie Howe, meanwhile, was being linked with vacant jobs from top to tail in the Premier League.
The vicissitudes since have been dramatic. Arteta's revolution has gathered momentum and ground to juddering halts. After recovering with 10-men in a chaotic 2-2 draw against Chelsea, the Spaniard once again has a positive platform to build on. But for Eddie Nketiah, whose situation has also taken a sharp U-turn, it could be a sliding doors moment in the 20-year-old's career at the club.
Gabriel Martinelli, the teenage hero of that game at Stamford Bridge, has announced himself as one of the most exciting prospects in Europe. But with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang serving the last game of his suspension and the Brazilian likely to be rested, Nketiah should be given the chance to lead Arsenal's line against Bournemouth. How he performs could have a definitive impact on his future.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, went on to lose four successive league games before finally arresting their slide last Tuesday against Brighton. Still sitting in the relegation zone, the FA Cup is more of a distraction than an escape, with Howe certain to take the chance to rest and rotate players. But after finally bringing an end to the gloom, sustaining that newly revived momentum could yet prove invaluable to the club's Premier League fate.