LONDON, January 7 – Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson faces a daunting trip to Manchester United on Sunday as he attempts to quash calls for his dismissal with an FA Cup third round victory at Old Trafford.
The kick-off proper of the world’s oldest football competition could hardly have come at a worse time for Hodgson, who edged closer to the sack after a miserable midweek defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
Hodgson appeared to be resigned to his fate in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss at Ewood Park, abruptly cutting short his post-match press conference and declining to answer questions on his future.
Although Liverpool’s owners New England Sports Adventures are reportedly planning a change of management in the summer, the wrong result against Liverpool’s most bitter rivals on Sunday could hasten Hodgson’s exit.
"You keep going as best you can," a gloomy Hodgson stated. "You make certain that you try to get over the result and make certain the next result is a better one and wipes away the memory."
The bad news for Hodgson is that his team are coming up against a Manchester United side who are determined to atone for their shock exit to Leeds at the same stage of the competition last season.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has indicated that he plans to pick his strongest possible side as the club launches their bid to win the FA Cup for the first time since 2004.
"It was a bad result last season against Leeds, especially considering the rivalry between the two clubs," Ferguson said.
"In hindsight I could have picked a stronger team. I won’t be making that mistake this time."
The fact that United have not managed to lift the FA Cup for seven years is also a statistical anomaly that Ferguson wants to correct.
"It is an important trophy so there is a strong desire to get our hands on it," said the United boss. "We haven’t won it since 2004, or been to Wembley in the final since we lost to Chelsea in 2007.
"So we definitely want to get back there. And we want to win it."
Hodgson is not the only Premier League manager whose fate could be decided by this weekend’s FA Cup ties.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti will face unbearable pressure if the holders somehow fail to beat Ipswich at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, while West Ham boss Avram Grant and Aston Villa’s Gerard Houllier may not be able to survive if their teams slip up against Barnsley and Sheffield United respectively.
Ancelotti, who appeared to write off Chelsea’s hopes of retaining their Premier League crown after a shock 1-0 defeat at Wolves on Wednesday, insisted the English champions remained united.
"The players are focused. They are working hard. They are staying together," Ancelotti said. "There are no problems (in the squad) – they have a good spirit."
Houllier meanwhile insisted that he retains the full support of Villa owner Randy Lerner after a midweek league defeat at home to Sunderland which saw the Midlands side drop into the relegation zone.
"I don’t doubt Randy Lerner’s firm support and determination. We are in this together for better or worse," Houllier said.
While West Ham boss Grant knows there is little margin for error when his Hammers face Championship side Barnsley on Saturday, the Israeli insists he is not worried about his future.
"I am not thinking about that. I am thinking how I need to do my job, and that’s all," said Grant, whose side were thrashed 5-0 at Newcastle on Wednesday to leave them bottom of the Premier League.
In the pick of the other ties, Arsenal face a potentially awkward meeting with Leeds at the Emirates in Saturday’s early kick-off, while big-spending Manchester City will come up against former boss Sven-Goran Eriksson when they travel to Leicester on Sunday.
Eriksson, a close friend of Roberto Mancini since the City manager played for him at Sampdoria, is relishing the prospect of facing his old club.
"It will not be easy and we are not the favourites, especially when I spoke to Mancini and said ‘come with the reserves’.
"He said ‘no, I am coming with all my big players,’" said Eriksson. "That shows they want to win trophies."
Meanwhile romantics looking for giant-killing exploits will be hoping non-league Crawley can stun Championship visitors Derby, while Dover will hope to score an upset over League One side Huddersfield.