Who are the key players in the FA Cup quarter-finals?

The quarter-finals of the FA Cup take place this weekend, with four juicy ties on the schedule.

Chelsea are seeking to put off-the-field issues behind them by reaching the final for the third year in a row, but Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest hope to do the Championship proud.

Manchester City and Liverpool are the favourites to lift this season’s FA Cup, but Leicester City upset the odds last term and they can inspire other shock results in the competition this year.

Here are the key players for each side ahead of the FA Cup quarter-final matches.

 

Middlesbrough v Chelsea: Matt Crooks and Kai Havertz

It was Crooks who came up with the goal against Manchester United that sent the fourth-round tie to extra time for Middlesbrough and he has been starring for the hosts all season.

The Leeds-born midfielder has hit eight goals in the Championship, shining in his first season at Boro since joining the club from Rotherham United last summer. Tall and tough Crooks is a combative presence in the heart of the pitch for Chris Wilder’s side, with the 28-year-old having been booked 11 times in the Championship this season and serving a recent two-game ban.

For Chelsea, Havertz is again expected to lead the line and keep out record signing Romelu Lukaku, with the Germany international having hit a late winner against Newcastle last time out.

Havertz is in the most productive scoring streak of his Chelsea career, finding the net six times over the past month, including the winner from the penalty spot in the Club World Cup final.

 

Crystal Palace v Everton: Conor Gallagher and Andros Townsend

Gallagher’s future remains shrouded in mystery amid a crisis at parent club Chelsea, but the all-action midfielder will put that behind him as he looks to make his mark on this tie.

The 22-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign for the Eagles, scoring eight goals and registering five assists in the Premier League this season.

Gallagher was recently crowned Young Player of the Year at the London Football Awards and has become a key player for Patrick Vieira’s enterprising side at Selhurst Park.

A more experienced old pro is likely to hold the key for Everton, with Townsend having been their star player during a run to the last eight of the FA Cup.

Townsend has two goals and an assist in the competition so far this season and with Everton welcoming a distraction from their losing streak in the league, he can deliver for them again.

 

Southampton v Manchester City: James Ward-Prowse and Riyad Mahrez

Saints skipper Ward-Prowse was linked with leaving St Mary’s last year but his decision to stay has been rewarded with a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

The set piece specialist scored from the spot in the last round as Southampton battled their way past West Ham, a goal that took him to nine for the season for club and country.

League leaders City last won the FA Cup in 2019 and Mahrez – who is scoring every 96 minutes so far this term – will be influential if they are to repeat the feat and potentially clinch the Double.

Algeria international Mahrez is enjoying the best season of his career, with 21 goals in all competitions including three strikes in his two games in the FA Cup. Mahrez heads into this intriguing tie in fine form after a recent derby day double against Manchester United.

 

Nottingham Forest v Liverpool: Ryan Yates and Takumi Minamino

Forest announced this week academy graduate Yates has signed a new deal at the City Ground, committing his future to the Championship club through to 2025.

It is just reward for the 24-year-old, who has hit seven goals this season. Yates contributed a goal and an assist in a 2-1 defeat of Huddersfield Town in the last round and a recent strike from distance against Reading showed confidence is flowing for the midfielder.

Minamino has found it hard to break into the Liverpool team but, having hit three goals in the Reds’ run to the quarter-finals, he should be included in Jurgen Klopp’s team for this tie.

The Japan international followed up a brace against Norwich with another goal as Liverpool beat Cardiff City in the last round to book a trip to Trentside. Though the signing of Luis Diaz has pushed Minamino down the Anfield pecking order, the 27-year-old can show his talent here.

Author: Lucas Carlson