Can Frank Lampard write his own fairytale, how will the Pigeon Detectives get on at MK Dons and can anyone be bothered to pay £10 to watch Huddersfield v Wigan in the fifth round?
Something a bit odd is happening this season. Bradford are in the League Cup final. So are Swansea. Top-flight teams are outnumbered 9-6 in the FA Cup fifth-round draw – and it could end up 10-6 if Brentford beat Chelsea in their delayed fourth-round replay. Luton have become only the sixth non-league side since the Second World War to reach this stage and still want to go further. "It's such a buzz," their captain, Ronnie Henry, says. "When you're young, you dream of winning the FA Cup. Who knows?" There is only one all-Premier League tie in the fifth round, giving lower-division teams a great chance to challenge assumptions of top-flight supremacy. On the other hand, the natural order could be restored emphatically. Simon Burnton
The FA Cup is often spoken about in terms better suited to fiction. There are storybook or fairytale endings, the killing of giants and an inanimate silver-plated object that is imbued with "magic" or "romance". All grist to the mill for a writer like Frank Lampard, whose deal to pen a series of children's books called Frankie's Magic Football was announced this week. "I first had the idea of Frankie and his Magic Football when reading stories to my own children," Lampard said. "I made up my own football stories and adventures." It seems as if his own football adventure will not end with Frankie and his club living happily ever after but a fourth Cup-winner's medal in five years would certainly make for a decent last chapter. SB
That game at Stamford Bridge is the rogue fourth-round outlier on fifth-round weekend, with the clubs vying for the right to play at Middlesbrough on Wednesday week. The Bees have won one in five league games, though at least it was the last of them, against Stevenage on Tuesday night. "As a group of players, we have not even discussed Chelsea," Tony Craig said after that game. "I know it's a bit of a cliché but we have just been focusing on each game as it comes." The Bees' produced a splendid performance in the first game, twice leading on the way to a 2-2 draw. It seems all but certain that they will find life considerably more difficult at Stamford Bridge, against opponents who have reached three of the last four FA Cup finals. But Chelsea have kept only two clean sheets since Boxing Day and have a crowd prone to turning quickly against their manager. In the ultimate no-pressure tie could the Bees spring an upset? SB
Blackburn have had a pretty dismal season, continuing to be run as if for comic, rather than sporting, effect. But for the first time they can be considered to be in something approaching form – one defeat in their last 10 games, six of them won, and only a single goal conceded in their last four (and that a penalty). Suddenly they sit two places (but six points) outside the play-offs. Arsenal, in good form themselves, desperate for a trophy and with fond memories of the 7-1 pasting they handed out the last time Blackburn visited a year ago, would do well not to let thoughts of a place in the final eight get too entrenched too soon. SB
To be the only Premier League teams playing on an FA Cup weekend is football's equivalent of placing the slowest child in class in a dunce's cap. Of course everyone knows that Liverpool are having a(nother) poor season and nobody has forgotten their fourth-round defeat at Oldham but the scheduling of their fixture against Swansea provides another reminder. Brendan Rodgers admits the timing of the game "doesn't help us, if I'm being honest", while Michael Laudrup is not helping with his insistence that Swansea "go there with no pressure at all ... the pressure will be on Liverpool". And the home side cannot even use this week's trip to Zenit St Petersburg as an excuse for under-performing – Swansea have travelled even further, even if their visit to Dubai will have involved less competitive football and more topping-up of suntans than their opponents' trip to Russia. After the hideousness of Monday's defeat by West Bromwich Albion Liverpool will hope to lay their top-half hoodoo here, in the knowledge that they will have only one more chance in the following six league games. SB
So far this season underneath many fans' radars a hit popular music act has performed at one FA Cup match each round (since the third round, anyway). The idea is that after the semi-finals the public will vote for their favourite performers, whose song will be played when the players emerge for the final. It's one hell of a prize, to be sure – Lethal Bizzle even said, "It really would be a dream come true." There are signs, though, that this competition is no longer being treated with the utmost seriousness. After all, when Bizzle, rapper and distant relative of Arsenal's Emmanuel Frimpong, performed Not a Saint in round three he did so before a massive tie between West Ham and Manchester United. And when Devlin, rapper and brother of the former Sheffield United and Birmingham City ace Paul Devlin*, performed Sun Goes Down in round four he did so before the enormous 2011 FA Cup final rematch between Stoke and Manchester City. Yet when the Pigeon Detectives, anointed beat combo in round five, perform Animal this weekend, they will do so for anyone who has turned up at MK Dons v Barnsley a bit early. "It's every schoolboy's dream to play in the FA Cup," says singer Matt Bowman in a bravura display of putting-on-a-brave-face and, "while we're not lacing up our boots and running on to the pitch, it's still a massive buzz to be involved". SB
* Actually not true.
Looking ahead to this weekend's match against Leeds, Roberto Mancini told the Manchester Evening News that he was likely to make extensive changes to the side that beat themselves 3-1 at Southampton last week. "I will change players," he promised. "I only want players who are ready for the fight in the last 12 games. I am very angry with a lot of my players and very disappointed." So who, then, will be cast aside? SB
It is not uncommon for big teams to slash ticket prices when they face unglamorous opposition in the FA Cup, perhaps because fans are used to seeing more famous faces and perhaps because everyone knows they are not really giving the game their full attention. What is unusual this weekend is that the usual rules have been inverted and one of the lower-division teams find themselves desperately trying to flog seats to watch Premier League players. Huddersfield, of the Championship, are charging just £10 for adults and a fiver for concessions in most of the ground, and £15/£8 in the posh seats, for the visit of Wigan – and you can buy tickets at the turnstiles. This seems the most likely source of an upset in round five but might the Terriers, three points off the bottom three and having appointed Mark Robins as their new manager on Thursday, decide that Tuesday's visit to Nottingham Forest is a more important occasion? SB
Remember Jose Baxter? In Everton's first team at 16, hyped as the new Wayne Rooney. Whatever happened to the young forward? Well, he never quite made it at Goodison Park, a mooted move to Crystal Palace fell through and Baxter considered quitting football until Alan Stubbs, the former Everton centre-half, phoned him to ask what on earth was happening and how could he help. Stubbs persuaded Baxter not to give up, made some calls and got him a trial at Oldham. He passed and is scheduled to face David Moyes's team in the FA Cup at Boundary Park on Saturday evening. As Everton's Leighton Baines put it: "Jose should still be in the Premier League, I can't understand why he isn't. We'll have to watch him." LT
Oldham fans are keen on Dowie being appointed as Paul Dickov's replacement at managerless Oldham but there appear to be difficulties over salary and Dowie giving up his television work. In the meantime Tony Philliskirk will continue as caretaker against Everton in the FA Cup and the club affect a laid-back approach to this impasse. The Manchester Evening News has summed up the situation rather wonderfully. Its report on the matter reads as follows: "In the same week that the Pope announced his intention to vacate the Vatican the sight of white smoke wafting up Sheepfoot Lane appears to be on the backburner as the battle to bring in a new manager shows no sign of heating up." LT