January 21, 2021

FA Cup final, race for promotion set to be settled

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Four London clubs are involved in a major few days of football as the 2019-20 season comes to an end

Four London clubs will be involved in two major finals over the coming days—live on SuperSport—as Chelsea and Arsenal meet in the FA Cup final, and Fulham and Brentford compete for the right to play in the Premier League next season.

There are subplots aplenty ahead of Saturday’s showpiece between the Gunners and the Blues, the 139th edition of the FA Cup final.

Notably, the match represents an opportunity for two rookie coaches—Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard—to win the first silverware of their nascent managerial careers.

Lampard has enjoyed a successful first season at Stamford Bridge—particularly considering the club’s transfer ban—as he oversaw qualification for the Champions League at the first time of asking.

However, the ex-England midfielder has yet to solve the capital club’s defensive issues; they conceded eight goals across their last two away games—at Sheffield United and Liverpool—and it’s an area Lamps needs to address ahead of Saturday’s showdown.

Up front, Olivier Giroud has come out fighting in the media this week following the club’s signing of Timo Werner.

The former RasenBallsport Leipzig man and Tammy Abraham represent stiff competition for Giroud, but the Frenchman has rolled back the years in 2020, and has reaffirmed why he is such an effective leading man for the Blues.

The Gunners have their own superstars in offensive areas, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming off the back of a Premier League season in which he’s netted 22 goals—second only to top scorer Jamie Vardy.

Auba will be disappointed to have missed out on the Golden Boot he won last term, but considering the upheaval at the Emirates Stadium this term, his haul represents an excellent achievement.

He’s a striker at the top of his game, and he’s now supported by a cast that includes exciting younger players like Nicolas Pepe, Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka.

On their day, the North Londoners have the quality in the final third to put the Blues’ defence to the sword, although they’ll also be wary of their own vulnerabilities at the back.

While the Gunners were outclassed by Manchester City in the first game back after the restart, they improved dramatically by the time the two clubs met again in the semi-final.

Arsenal ultimately won 2-0—their best performance under Arteta—and will be hoping to channel this showing on Saturday.

If the Spaniard wins the cup, it would not only represent an awesome achievement so early into his career, but he’d also become the first person to win the oldest competition in the world game as both captain and head coach.

SuperSport Fixtures

Saturday 1 August – Arsenal vs Chelsea (FA Cup)

Sunday 2 August – Atalanta vs Inter Milan

Sunday 2 August – Juventus vs Roma

Sunday 2 August – AC Milan vs Cagliari

Sunday 2 August – Napoli vs Lazio

Tuesday 4 August – Fulham vs Brentford (EFL Championship Playoff Final)

Another major final involving two London clubs will take place on Tuesday, when a gruelling Championship season comes to an end with the playoff final between Fulham and Brentford.

It’s been a tough season for both of these two, each of whom flirted with automatic promotion but were forced to contest the playoffs after missing out to Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion.

Fulham, relegated last term, have impressed with their attacking football under another inexperienced coach—Scott Parker—this season, and in Aleksandar Mitrovic, they boast a potential match-winner.

While they were defeated by Cardiff City on Thursday evening in the second leg of their playoff, they progressed 3-2 on aggregate, and that loss may well ensure that there’s no chance of complacency heading into the final match of the season.

It’s a fixture worth a reported £170 million—considering the riches on offer in the Premier League—which would represent a meteoric rise for Brentford, who haven’t been in the top tier for 73 years.

The Bees bounced back to defeat Swansea City in their semi-final second leg—the final match at their historic Griffin Park ground—and are in fine fettle heading into the showpiece encounter.

Brentford have endured a rocky ride in recent weeks, and will be taking little for granted.

Their eight-game winning streak came to a screeching halt with three defeats against Stoke City, Barnsley and Swansea City.

They missed out on automatic promotion—ceding the initiative to the Albion—but made amends with that excellent second-leg showing against the Swans.

Can they now defeat their near-neighbours to reach the big time?

Finally, on Sunday, Serie A reaches its conclusion with the final round of league fixtures.

There are some fascinating ties as well, with high-flying Atalanta hosting Internazionale, champions Juventus at home against AS Roma, and Lazio set to go away to Champions League hopefuls Napoli.

The most intrigue is in Bergamo, where Atalanta and Inter are contesting second place in a battle between two sides who will already be gearing up for next season’s UCL campaigns and…who knows…perhaps a title challenge.

Atalanta return to the Champions League for the second consecutive season, and are currently on a 19-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

They’ve never finished higher than third in the top flight, and will surely be desperate to end the season in their best ever league position.

Lazio’s victory over Brescia in midweek means that they too can leapfrog the duo into second place, and are currently on a three-game winning streak.

Could they deny Atalanta a first-ever second-placed finish?