With dreams of European glory in tatters, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur turn their attention to the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend clinging to their last chance of silverware this season.
The competition’s lustre may have dulled in recent years as managers prioritise so-called bigger prizes, but Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino will have their eyes firmly fixed on a Wembley date on May 19.
Mourinho’s United, still reeling from a meek Champions League exit against Sevilla on Tuesday, host Brighton and Hove Albion, Conte’s Chelsea travel to Leicester City and Pochettino takes his Tottenham side to Swansea City.
Third-tier Wigan Athletic, the unlikely spanner in the spokes of Manchester City’s bid for a quadruple, welcome top-flight strugglers Southampton who will have new manager Mark Hughes, hired to save them from relegation, in the dugout for the first time.
Mourinho’s one and only FA Cup triumph was with Chelsea in 2006-07 and the Portuguese will be well aware that adding a record-equalling 13th for United is now the bare minimum requirement from his second season at Old Trafford.
Chris Hughton’s Brighton side will be tricky opponents though, having made a good fist of their first season of Premier League football, sitting 11th in the table.
They are in the last eight for the first time since 1986, three years after they lost to United in a final replay, having drawn 2-2 in the original fixture.
United striker Romelu Lukaku, who scored a consolation goal against Sevilla, knows United must respond.
“We have to bounce back. We have one trophy to chase and that is the FA Cup,” he said.
While United were lambasted for their defeat by Sevilla, Chelsea earned some credit despite a 3-0 loss to Barcelona on Wednesday. They have nonetheless lost five of their last nine matches in all competitions.
They are far from assured a top-four finish in the Premier League and Leicester, with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in form, will be a tough proposition at the King Power on Sunday.
With no relegation fears Leicester look prime ‘dark horse’ material for a first-ever FA Cup win.
A good omen for Chelsea perhaps is that the last time they won the trophy, in 2012, they beat Leicester 5-2 in the quarter-finals, albeit at Stamford Bridge.
For Pochettino the FA Cup offers the chance finally to rubber-stamp his impressive project at Tottenham with some silverware.
Third and second place finishes in the Premier League and topping a Champions League group including Real Madrid have earned him compliments aplenty but his side are yet to taste the sweet smell of success.
Last year’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea was a kick in the teeth, as was this month’s Champions League exit at the hands of Juventus after a 2-1 loss at Wembley.
His side have been installed as favourites by some bookmakers but with striker Harry Kane sidelined Saturday’s trip to south Wales to face a Swansea side rejuvenated under Carlos Carvalhal will be fraught with danger.
Swansea are in the last eight for the first time since 1964 and despite having one eye on their relegation battle, think something memorable is brewing.
“There is a chance to do something special in the cup this season but Tottenham are a fantastic team,” Swans striker Tammy Abraham said. “Tottenham will come all guns blazing and we have to do the same. We have to believe we can do it.”