Tottenham's curious relationship with FA Cup, Morata needs a goal, Liverpool's revenge
W2W4 previews the weekend's action by highlighting its most compelling storylines as Manchester United and Tottenham vie for a place in the FA Cup final, Alvaro Morata looks to rediscover his confidence and Liverpool are out for revenge.
Pochettino's trophy shrug
Such is the importance placed on the "magic" of the FA Cup each season, that Mauricio Pochettino's honest appraisal of the competition has prompted another anxious introspective. In his news conference on Thursday, the Tottenham manager said he is asked repeatedly about the FA Cup's significance, but did not waver from his opinion. "Is it going to change our life? I don't believe so, I don't believe."
It is not disdain for the trophy, as some have inferred, but rather an outlook based on a wealth of personal experience. Pochettino works with the Spurs players every single day. He has seen them barge their way into the top four when budgets would place them outside the cosseted elite. He has seen them thrash Real Madrid in the Champions League and fight back from 2-0 down against Juventus in Turin.
He knows they are ready to challenge for the biggest prizes -- and it his view that an FA Cup victory will not further embolden his team in those pursuits.
That seems a fair assessment, and one that is perhaps partly driven by Pochettino's domestic success as a player with Espanyol. In 2000, the Argentine won the Copa del Rey against Atletico Madrid, having defeated Real Madrid in the semifinal. The next season Espanyol finished ninth in La Liga, failing to unsettle the established order in a push for a European place. It would seem Pochettino saw little change in the team's mentality, despite the club claiming its first major trophy in 60 years.
There is an argument that it would be different for Spurs. Unlike Espanyol, they are building towards a period of sustained success both on and off the pitch. There are recent examples -- Manchester City's FA Cup win in 2011, Manchester United's League Cup win in 2006 -- of a group of players tasting glory together for the first time and going on to claim even greater honours.
But conversely look at Arsenal's performance in recent seasons -- three FA Cup wins in the last four years have coincided with a slide down the table.
Pochettino has said it would be "fantastic" to finish the season with silverware, but added: "I don't think it's about need or not need." For him, one of the leading motivations in Saturday's semifinal will be beating Jose Mourinho. The Manchester United boss claimed a treble of sorts in his first season at Old Trafford, but has overseen a league campaign in which United are set to finish a distant second, along with a European quest that was ended by Sevilla.
Perhaps that is evidence enough for Pochettino that winning a domestic cup isn't the springboard many believe.
Morata must prove himself
Alvaro Morata has apologised for venting his frustrations after being substituted against Burnley, and it appeared Antonio Conte had little issue with the player for being "angry with himself."
That trivial episode may be resolved, but in the wider picture Morata's form is a huge concern for Chelsea -- if not for Conte, for whom it soon won't be a problem. The striker missed another one-on-one chance at Burnley when it seemed easier to score, and has now found the net only twice in his last 18 appearances.
It is not the way things were expected to pan out when Morata hit eight goals in his first eight matches in a blue shirt. At 25, he should be entering the peak years of his career, with a £60m move to Stamford Bridge highlighting the progress of his endeavours at Juventus and Real Madrid. But instead, Morata has struggled to adapt, seeing his World Cup chances diminish after being omitted from the Spain squad in March.
There is still time to turn things around. Should he be handed another chance by Conte in Sunday's FA Cup semifinal against Southampton, Morata must seize it to prove his quality once again. A goal at Wembley to send Chelsea into the final could have a transformative effect on the striker -- it is vital he keeps his cool when the moment arrives.
Another half-empty Emirates?
At what point will the Arsenal hierarchy grow concerned by the rise in stay-away fans at the Emirates? The ground has always struggled for atmosphere since the club's move in 2006, but seats filled with silent supporters look no different on TV. Empty seats, on the other hand, are a visible indication of a lack of interest and an absence of confidence that the board should fear will spread to sponsors.
Following a fifth successive away defeat in the league -- the Gunners' worst run since 1984, a somewhat appropriate year given the current dystopia -- Arsene Wenger's side return to home comforts on Sunday. There is little left to play for in the Premier League, other than keeping Burnley at bay in the "race for sixth".
Despite this week's email marketing to try and shift the remaining tickets, another low turnout is anticipated for Saturday's clash with West Ham. If Arsenal are to encourage fans to return, those who stay away must be made to feel as though they have missed out.
Liverpool's revenge mission
The main focus for Liverpool is Tuesday's Champions League semifinal against Roma at Anfield, but the Reds' stand-ins at West Brom will want to stake their claim for a place in the squad by maintaining the club's challenge to finish as Premier League runners-up.
It is also something of a revenge mission for Liverpool on FA Cup weekend. Somewhat poetically, the Reds face the same opponent that kicked them out of the competition in January, providing a timely reminder that they could have been at Wembley instead.
Jurgen Klopp will be wary of a West Brom side that has shown fight under caretaker boss Darren Moore, and if he can ensure Liverpool avoid slipping up as Man United did last weekend, they could yet pip their rivals to second place.
Clock ticking for Big Sam
After what Sam Allardyce referred to as a "marketing slip-up" this week, as Everton surveyed fans for their opinion of the manager, he will be eager to get a result against Newcastle on Monday night.
It seems time could already be up for Allardyce at Goodison Park, but an impressive victory over the in-form Magpies may inspire a late flurry of positive feedback.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger