Friday 3/11/16 (11:55 AM PT)
Reading vs. Crystal Palace (3)
Reading are the last hope for non-premiership teams in the FA Cup, and they have a decent chance to advance against a Palace side that is stripped of form. The Eagles haven’t won a Premier League contest in 2016, but they are taking the term “cup side” to a whole new meaning, defeating three straight top-flight sides in the competition so far (including second-placed Tottenham last round). Their run has been impressive to say the least, and it would be hard to pick against them being a division up, but with the Royals languishing in 14th place in the Championship, this is really their last hope for the season, and they will play every match like the final. It could come down to which Palace side decides to show up for the contest, and that could make this a fascinating fixture.
Everton vs. Chelsea (4)
Having been eliminated from the UCL midweek, this is Chelsea’s last chance to salvage anything from what has otherwise been a forgettable season at Stamford Bridge. The teams enter the contest having each defeated PL competition in the last round, but both played average at best sides, as Chelsea smashed a heavily criticised youth-ridden Manchester City squad while the Toffees defeated Bournemouth (and before that Everton had faced a pair of League 2 opponents). Given the lows Guus Hiddink has recovered this team from already this year, the Blues are coming on as decent pick to win the trophy, but the road leads through hostile territory at Goodison Park, and with home field advantage, Everton might be able to nab a win.
Sunday 3/13/16 (5:30 AM PT)
Arsenal vs. Watford (3)
The Gunners should be able to escape this tie without much trouble, but they’ll need to be wary of Watford’s strike duo, especially with Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech still out. Watford haven’t beaten Arsenal since 1988, and given their problems scoring of late (three goals in their past six games), the Hornets will need some luck to end that run. Arsenal remain one of the favorites to lift the trophy, and a win here would go a long ways towards putting their Premier League struggles in the rearview mirror. However, this is far from the most intriguing game of the round.
(8:00 AM PT)
Manchester United vs. West Ham (5)
This, on the other hand, probably is the tie of the quarterfinals. The teams are separated by two points in the Premier League, with West Ham ahead. With three straight wins at their backs, the Hammers will bring tons of confidence with them to Old Trafford. Meanwhile, United are losing their grip on the PL title race, and the Champions League places are escaping them as well. A run deep into the FA Cup would be a much-needed reprieve from what’s been a poor
league campaign for the Red Devils, but West Ham is undoubtedly going to test United this weekend.
Saturday 3/12/16 (4:45 AM PT)
Norwich vs. Manchester City (2)
The only reason Norwich City has any hope in this game is because the Premier League has seen some ridiculous surprises this year. The Canaries have been awful of late, with one point since early January, and have dropped into the relegation zone. City, meanwhile, haven’t been a whole lot better recently — with three straight losses to top competition before beating Aston Villa — but have a squad that is miles ahead. The Citizens have a way of pouring it on, especially against teams in the bottom third, and that could be exactly what happens this weekend. It’s hard to stop a sinking ship, but getting anything out of this fixture could go a long way to reviving Norwich's hopes, though that is much easier said than done.
(7:00 AM PT)
Bournemouth vs. Swansea (1)
Each of these former bottom-dwellers has taken six points in its last two fixtures and has pushed to relative safety. Now, both teams can rest a bit easier, but a win here would almost certainly guarantee either side that they will be staying in the top flight for another year. The Cherries have a better offense, but a worse defense, so expect a pretty evenly matched fight. The drawback here is that the fixture will probably have little importance come season’s end, and neither side has been stellar this year, so it could well turn into a snoozer. It's one of only two games in the time slot, and the other one (which we will get to shortly) has two more gripping sides, so this one looks to be only for the fans of the respective sides.
Stoke vs. Southampton (3)
Given the recent developments in the league, Stoke — and Southampton, who sit two points below them, for that matter — have an outside shot at making a run for fifth. In truth, it's very unlikely that either team will get there, but both sides are looking for motivation as the season winds down and they sit firmly in the mid-table. It’s interesting that Stoke hold the advantage over their visitors at this point, given they have fewer goals scored and more conceded. It's the only PL game of the weekend with two squads in the top half, so that alone probably makes it the most intriguing.
Sunday 3/13/16 (8:00 AM PT)
Aston Villa vs. Tottenham (2)
Monday 3/14/16 (12 PM PT)
Leicester vs. Newcastle (3)
Newcastle need to start winning games ASAP if they want to save themselves, and it looks like the club is making a big move to try and do that. Rafa Benitez is rumored to have agreed terms with the Magpies, and he could be in the dugout on Monday when Newcastle travels to the King Power Stadium. Even with the new coach boost, it’s hard to see the Magpies getting anything from this game, especially at night in front of what should be a frantic Leicester crowd. Frankly, the Foxes should continue their march toward the title unimpeded this week.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Sevilla vs. Villarreal, Sunday 3/13/16, 8 AM PT
Although the first three Champions League spots in Spain are all but claimed by Barcelona, Atletico, and Real Madrid, the fight for fourth place could turn up a notch in the coming weeks. Villarreal currently hold the position, but they have just one point from their last two games and Sevilla are still in the race. A win for Sevilla would close the gap on Villarreal to five points, with the sides facing Barcelona and Real Madrid next week, respectively. But, if Villarreal get all three points on the road, they’ll be 11 points up on Sevilla with just nine games to go. This one will be vital in determining the shape of Spain’s top-four race.