The FFT Flutter: Big Hesk's back at Anfield – but the value lies elsewhere
Cambridge vs Man United (Fri, 7:55pm)
Where giant-killing is concerned, it's all on Cambridge. As the lowest-ranked side left in the competition – the only in League Two after negotiating four games to get here – Richard Money's men have the arduous challenge of overcoming the big red machine from Old Trafford to claim unlikely glory.
The U's might have Money in charge, but it's United's green that'll likely settle this.
Cambridge, promoted to the Football League last season via the play-offs after nine seasons away, sit mid-table in their new surroundings after a reasonable start to life in the fourth tier. Back-to-back wins over Carlisle and Newport, the latter a 4-0 romp, have shoved them to within six points of the play-offs.
At 12/1, though, the bookies are expecting nothing less than a United walkover despite home advantage. Then again, those odds number-crunchers didn't much fancy MK Dons either. Louis van Gaal won't want to be stung again, and with no European football to contend with, should be able to field a strong team at the Abbey Stadium. For an outside bet try Cambridge midfielder Ryan Donaldson for a goal anytime – with 6 goals in all competitions this season, the former Magpie is a decent 14/1 shot.
Best bet: No big surprises for Van Gaal & Co. here. Cambridge will be well up for their big night, but the gulf in class will surely prevail. At 1/5 the visitors aren't worth touching, so instead grab the 5/4 on the Reds winning both halves.
Birmingham vs West Brom (Sat, 3pm)
Superstitious fans always fear facing teams with a fresh face at the helm, but for Birmingham their new-manager bounce is still in its upward trajectory. Since hiring Gary Rowett the Blues have lost just 2 of 13 matches and risen from 23rd to 11th, looking up at the play-offs rather than down at the drop zone.
The 8-0 defeat to Bournemouth in October feels long ago. Where once read a truly abysmal home record – incredibly, just 1 league win at St Andrew's in over a year under Lee Clark – now looks much brighter, with 4 wins in 6 under their new man. Thus, the 3/1 available for them to beat struggling West Brom looks decent value.
Then again, the Baggies know all about a new manager boost. Under Tony Pulis the Hawthorns outfit have beaten Hull and claimed a point at Everton under the Welshman's stewardship, clocking back-to-back clean sheets (3 if you count the game against Gateshead). What else under one of football's best firefighters?
Best bet: Nobody expects goal-fests where Pulis treads, while under Rowett, Birmingham have kept things much tighter on home soil – bar a freak 4-0 humping from Derby, the Blues have shipped only 4 goals in their other 5 games. But if, like us, you back a Pulis side to rack up another clean slate here, it has to be the 21/10 on a Baggies win without reply.
Man City vs Middlesbrough (Sat, 3pm)
Approaching seven years ago, Middlesbrough beat Manchester City 8-1 at the Riverside Stadium to end Sven-Goran Eriksson's not-so-glorious reign at the Etihad Stadium. These days, the latter are finally showing signs that they can get out of the Championship in their sixth season away from the top flight, joint-second in the second tier and just a point behind leaders Bournemouth.
Manchester City don't need much introduction. Long gone are the likes of former hat-trick 'hero' Afonso Alves, replaced by Aitor Karanka's fresh breed of promotion hopefuls. Boro concede rarely – just 18 so far in 27 games, the best record in the Championship by a considerable distance (5 goals).
But have they got what it takes to keep out Manuel Pellegrini's mob at the Etihad? Er, probably not. After all, this is a team who've netted in 24 of their last 25 FA Cup matches (well done again, Wigan) and won 25 of 30 Premier League games under the Chilean's hand.
That said, they've also shipped at least 2 goals in their last 3 home matches – something that hadn't previously happened since October 2002. Sheffield Wednesday gave them a scare in the third round too, until James Milner's late brace saved the day.
Best bet: Predicting what a Championship team will do is no mean feat, but taking the evidence into consideration, Boro's strong rearguard mixed with a City 'second string' could force this one Under 2.5 goals at 7/4.
Liverpool vs Bolton (Sat, 5:30pm)
Emile Heskey! How exciting. What's more, it seems like there's genuine life left in the old dog. A promising start to the former England man's Bolton career has put Big Hesk in the frame for another start up front against his old club, with former Chelsea hero Eidur Gudjohnsen waiting in the wings. This is supposed to be sensible betting advice, but come on: Heskey to net first at Anfield, at 12/1. Yes? OK, good.
Moving on, Wanderers have actually been pretty good of late. Continuing with the trend, Neil Lennon's arrival has kick-started the Lancastrians' campaign after a stagnant period under Dougie Freedman in which League One was becoming a more likely possibility by the game.
Now they're much more difficult to beat – 3 defeats in 15 under the former Leicester man says so – but face a Liverpool side who've found that loving feeling again. A spirited draw against Chelsea in midweek followed 6 wins from 8 in all competitions to lift Brendan Rodgers' men back within touching distance of the top four.
Best bet: The Reds have also, however, kept only 3 clean sheets in their last 17 at Anfield. Liverpool to win with both teams scoring is 7/4.
Bristol City vs West Ham (Sun, 2pm)
League One's high-flying Robins might just have what it takes to upset Big Sam's happy Hammers. For a start they've got home advantage at Ashton Gate, where they've won 13 of their last 16 in all competitions, and lost just once. Promotion is no certainty at this stage, but being joint-top with a game in hand over Swindon means things are looking good.
Five lethal forwards have notched 29 league goals between them this season, with former Norwich and Palace man Aaron Wilbraham leading the way on 10 and ex-Everton kid Kieran Agard weighing in with 7. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has netted 7 goals in his last 8 FA Cup appearances, and is 3/1 to strike here.
West Ham were made to sweat to reach round four after a gruelling penalty shootout win over Everton in which goalkeeper Adrian emerged as the unlikely hero with his boots rather than hands.
Away from Upton Park, however, the east Londoners are winless in 4 and may well give some of their first-choice regulars well-earned rests here. While they certainly won't take the Robins lightly, this could prove a stern test of the Hammers' character.
Best bet: Each of West Ham's last 4 away games have produced only 2 goals. Against much higher-quality opposition they may have been, but in Bristol City they now face off against a side who've conceded only 9 times in 12 league games at Ashton Gate this season. Similar organisation should come up trumps for Under 2.5 goals at 17/20.
Aston Villa vs Bournemouth (Sun, 2pm)
It's the potential banana skin everyone's talking about this week – and at 2/1 for a Bournemouth win, rightly so. The Cherries will go off shorter than that by kick-off at Villa Park (so get on 'em now) on the back of a superb run to the top of the Championship under the careful stewardship of Eddie Howe. A shock defeat to Leeds in midweek was a setback, but the south coast outfit have bounced back from their rare slip-ups more often than not this season.
A ship-shape backline has conceded only 28 in 27, but it's at the other end where their strengths really lie; their 57 strikes are 8 more than any other team. Former Coventry striker Callum Wilson (6/1 to bag first) is largely to thank with 12 of those, but goals have, unsurprisingly, come from everywhere.
We're already sensing the sniggers at Aston Villa's plight. It's now a head-to-brick-wall 522 minutes with a goal in the Premier League for Paul Lambert's strugglers, with Christian Benteke's 88th-minute third-round winner against Blackpool their only since December 20 against Manchester United. They've also won only 1 of their last 9 games at Villa Park. Desperate times indeed.
Best bet: Bournemouth 0 on the Asian Handicap is 11/10 – significantly better than the 3/5 available on the draw-win Double Chance. A draw gets you your money back – but Howe's men will be going here with only one outcome in their mind.
Who'll lift the cup?
Chelsea are 9/2 favourites again, and it's not hard to understand why. Jose Mourinho rarely fields significantly weakened sides in cup competitions (so never, basically), although he's only won the competition once in 2006/07. Manchester City and Manchester United follow at 5/1, the former having lifted the trophy in 2010/11 before fluffing their lines against Wigan in 2013, and United despite their lack of success in the competition since 2003/04. Holders Arsenal are 7/1, with a clash at Brighton to negotiate this weekend.
Odds correct at time of publishing