Palace may have the worst points rate across the top four divisions in England in 2016, but they can point to reaching their FA Cup final in twenty-six years back in May as a sign that it is not all doom and gloom at Selhurst Park. The same team who beat Palace in the 1990 final repeated the trick at Wembley, with Manchester United running out 2-1 winners after extra time in a game that could have gone either way. Alan Pardew became infamous for perhaps the wrong reasons after doing a celebratory jig in front of the cameras following Jason Puncheon’s 78th minute opener, only for his team to be pegged back just three minutes later.
Another strong run in the FA Cup could really lift the spirits at a club who are currently enduring a poor run of form in the Premier League. Palace proved last season that they do have the quality to become contenders, with Pardew’s men beating Southampton, Stoke, Tottenham, Reading and Watford as they marched towards Wembley with some impressive victories. Losing Yannick Bolasie to Everton during the summer could prove to be decisive as the season progresses, but if Pardew can get the very best from Wilfred Zaha, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke, then Palace could be worth keeping an eye on if they find their form in the FA Cup.
There is no question that the defending Premier League champions have found the going much tougher this season, and although they have been excellent in the Champions League so far, Claudio Ranieri needs to reignite the fire in their belly before their domestic form becomes a greater concern. Succeeding in Europe may be the Foxes’ primary objective, but winning the FA Cup would certainly rank as a fantastic achievement for a side that have seen their relegation prospects in the latest Premier League odds with Coral increase in recent weeks.
Leicester certainly have the quality at their disposal to pull themselves away from trouble, even if the old adage of “too good to go down” could prove to be their downfall if form evades them. While the FA Cup may have been a distraction during their fairytale rise to prominence in the Premier League last season, enjoying a strong run in the cup this time around is more than possible with the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in their team. It is perhaps surprising that the current Premier League title holders are ranked as outsiders to win the most prestigious domestic cup competition in world football, but Leicester have already proved that they should never be written off once they build up a head of steam.
5-time FA Cup winners Everton appear to have found the right manager in Ronald Koeman to take the club forward, with the team carrying a more dynamic edge to their play and looking far more resolute at the back. Reaching the semi-finals last season under Koeman’s predecessor, Roberto Martinez, owed much to the level of attacking quality that the Toffees have at their disposal, with Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley capable of winning games on their own. They were undone by eventual winners Manchester United at Wembley, but shrewd business during the summer transfer window may provide Everton with the platform to go one step further this season.
The Saints may have seen Koeman leave for Everton after making a big impression at St. Mary’s, but his replacement, Claude Puel, has continued to take the club in the right direction. Southampton, who won their one and only FA Cup back in 1976, certainly have the squad to have a real go this season, particularly with one of the best defensive units in the country. Fraser Forster, Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk are vital to Southampton’s chances of success in every competition, and if Charlie Austin can continue to prove himself a clinical top-flight striker at the other end, then the Saints may be one of the teams to watch.
It remains to be seen how high the FA Cup ranks amongst Southampton’s priorities this season, with Puel’s side progressing well in the Europa League. Taking a shot at European glory may be their preferred method of success, but there is no reason why they cannot make a strong push to go all the way in the FA Cup.
Many have been left surprised by West Ham’s struggles this season, with a considerable dip in form and several teething problems upon moving into their new stadium culminating in the Hammers finding themselves just above the relegation zone. A strong run in the FA Cup could be the perfect tonic for Slaven Bilic and his players, and when you consider they have the likes of Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio and Andre Ayew amongst their ranks, West Ham are a side that few people will want to be drawn against.
Bilic will hope to have found a resolution to his team’s defensive frailties before they enter the competition in the third round – failing to do so could see West Ham crash out at the hands of a lower league side, but finding a solution, along with reigniting the spark that made them so impressive going forward last season, would make West Ham stand out as a serious FA Cup darkhorses.