Reviewing the upcoming FA Cup semi-finals

We now know who plays who in the upcoming semi-finals of the 2019/2020 FA Cup. After all of the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the draw took place at half-time during the game between Newcastle United and Manchester City on the 28th of June.

Both semis are to be played at Wembley. The first one, featuring Arsenal versus Manchester City, will be played on the 18th of July. The second semi will be played a day later on the 19th of July between Manchester United and Chelsea. So, the City of London takes on the City of Manchester.

Due to the current social distancing regulations, both of the semi-finals will be played behind closed doors. For the final, however, the FA is exploring the possibility of playing in front of a crowd of 20,000. 10, 000 supporters from each team.

Wembley holds 90,000, and the FA believes they can have 20,000 utilising the current distancing recommendations. The other proviso is that the infection rate must be below 0.5. Before we get there though there is the small matter of two semi-finals to be played, the first of which will be Arsenal against Man City.

On current form, you have to go with the Citizens to come out on top. Yes, Sergio Aguero is unlikely to be fit, having just undergone knee surgery. In a recent analysis of players who enjoy playing in the FA Cup the most, based on the number of goals they have scored in the competition, the Argentinean striker is second after Wayne Rooney. His presence will be missed.

But as City proved against a lack-lustre Newcastle side on Wednesday evening, when Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus both scored in a 5-0 thumping, the Sky Blues have plenty of other players who can and do score with regularity.

In the list of Man City top goal scorers this season, Sterling is top with 24 goals, scoring on average every 143 minutes. Second is Aguero, with 23 goals with an average of 91 minutes. Third is the Brazilian, Jesus, with 19 goals and an average of 137 minutes.

City’s opponents, the Arsenal, are a tough team to beat, and they are currently on a good run. But with manager, Mikel Arteta, still in the throes of finding his feet, Pep Guardiola and his talented squad of players, will likely prove too hot to handle.

The other semi-final between Manchester United and Chelsea is likely to be a much tighter affair. The Reds’ manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, has got United back in contention for a Champions League place next season. Marcus Rashford has found a good vein of form, and the recent return to match fitness of Paul Pogba bodes well for United’s chances.

From Chelsea’s perspective, they will go into the game with confidence. At the time of writing, they are third in the Premier League table, and they must fancy their chances against United. In the analysis of FA Cup top scorers referred to earlier, French striker Olivier Giroud is in third place, and Willian is in ninth. Their FA CUP goal-scoring pedigree beats that of United.

But on the day, it could well be Manchester United who steps up. They have a little more to play for in terms of qualifying for Europe next season, and they have a certain Mr. Juan Mata in their squad. Mata lies 6th in the FA Cup top scorers listing, and if given a chance to play, he could well prove the deciding factor.