Sheffield United are in tonight’s draw for the FA Cup fifth round.
By that point in the competition only 16 teams remain. It is already the Blades’ best run in the cup since they reached the semi-finals in 2013/14.
Since then they have, rightfully, been concentrating on their league campaigns. While they have been achieving two promotions in three years under manager Chris Wilder, the cups have largely taken a back seat.
And that would have been true this season – their first in the Premier League in 12 years. Survival was always the priority, yet United have exceeded expectations and then some.
They currently sit eighth in the table after 24 games with 33 points. The popular thinking is that 40 points are needed to avoid relegation. Actually, since it became a 20-team division in 1995/96, the average tally needed to stay up is around 37 points.
It means the Blades may only require four more points to confirm their place in the top flight for at least one more year. That would constitute a good season – but why not turn it into a great one?
Sheffield United could go far in the FA Cup
For the so-called big clubs in the Premier League, the FA Cup is no longer coveted as it once was.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has already admitted to BBC Sport it “will be the kids who play” in their fourth round replay against Shrewsbury Town. Klopp himself won’t even be in the dugout, instead letting reserve coach Neil Critchley take charge.
That said, the trophy has still been lifted by one of the traditional top six in all but one of the past 11 seasons. Wigan Athletic beating Manchester City in the 2012/13 final is the only exception.
What it does mean is that United have a great opportunity to go far in the competition. Six of the 15 potential ties they could receive in tonight’s draw would pit them against lower league opposition. Two more – Norwich City or Newcastle United/Oxford United – would guarantee opponents currently below them in the league pyramid.
Of the other fixtures they could get, only three would see them play against sides they haven’t taken points off already this term. They are Man City, Leicester City and Liverpool – and the latter aren’t even guaranteed progression, due to the aforementioned replay with Shrewsbury.
Even Wilder senses an opportunity to further cement his legendary status at Bramall Lane. He told the Yorkshire Post: “Why not – let’s have a go at it. We will have a little look before the next Cup game. It is another game to win and we will see where it takes us.”