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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It's British March Madness, and it lasts for 5 months

Being an American sports fan means that towards the latter end of March comes the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Championship, commonly known as March Madness. Teams like Virginia Commonwealth beat Kentucky. But in England, there is a similar soccer tourney called the F.A. Cup. The qualifying rounds start in September, but the cup ramps up in January when the top teams join in. At this point, 64 teams, mostly from the top 4 tiers of English football enter the 3rd round. The real excitement is the non-Premier League teams that are hosting the big teams like Arsenal and Manchester United. Also, the elite teams usually choose to rest some players in the FA Cup.
The greatest run to win the FA Cup was in 2013, with Ben Watson scoring a late header to beat Manchester City. Man City was the second best Premier League team that year, while Wigan was relegated to the Sky Bet Championship. One of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history came just last weekend. Chelsea lost to League One side Bradford, a team ranked nearly 60 spots lower. The game was played at Stamford Bridge too. Other major upsets have included Bournemouth defeating Manchester United 2-0 in 1984 and a rather disappointing loss by Arsenal in 1992 to Wrexham.

Two teams that have escaped upsets are Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsenal won the FA Cup last year and will probably end up winning this year. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been fairly criticized for not signing adequate defensive players. Gabriel Paulista is coming though, providing Arsenal a central defender upgrade over Koscielny or Mertesacker. Wenger should still look for a defensive midfielder to start over the young Francis Coquelin.

So if you enjoy Premier League soccer plus the upsets of March Madness, there are more FA Cup games next week, starting with replays of the fourth round draws...
...and then, the fifth round games:
Saturday, February 14
West Brom vs. West Ham, 7:45am, Fox Sports 1
Blackburn Rovers vs. Stoke City, 10am, Fox Sports 2
Derby County vs. Reading, 10am, Fox Soccer Plus
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool, 12:30pm, Fox Soccer Plus
Sunday, February 15
Aston Villa vs. Leicester City, 7:30am, Fox Sports 1
Bradford City vs. Sunderland, 9:30am, Fox Soccer Plus
Arsenal vs. Middlesborough, 11am, Fox Sports 2
Monday, February 16
Preston North End vs. Manchester United, 2:30p, Fox Sports 2

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