THE magic of the FA Cup returns, with Premiership sides joining the draw in the third round. With some David v Goliath match-ups, this is the round that typically sees some famous giant killing feats, with lower division sides bringing their A-game against elite-level primadonnas, hoping to create a slice of footballing history.
Crystal Palace and Everton have already kicked off the action midweek with a scoreless draw at Selhurst Park, necessitating a replay. Tottenham Hotspurs are through to the next round after disposing of Burnley one-nil in the early Saturday morning game.
Plum tie of the round is surely the clash at the Emirates Stadium between Arsenal and Liverpool. FocusM looks at the talking points from the other ties.
Maidstone v Stevenage (Sat, 8.30pm)
Maidstone are the lowest-ranking side left in the competition, plying their trade in the distinctly unglamorous National League South. This is their chance to add a League One scalp after beating higher-up Barrow in the second round.
For those who want to experience the rough and tumble of the FA Cup third round, this is the tie to watch. It may not boast star quality, but there will be plenty of excitement as a place in the fourth round is a massive incentive for both sides.
Sunderland v Newcastle (Sat, 8.45pm)
This is a much-anticipated tie as it is the first Tyne-Wear Derby since 2016. This is a deep rivalry that has often produced games where sparks fly and cards flash. Since that last meeting, the Magpies have seen a return to elite European competition bankrolled by Saudi wealth. Sunderland remain mired in the championship but will seek to capitalise on the visitor’s recent poor form.
Eddie Howe’s men have lost seven of their last eight and the squad is stretched paper thin by injuries. Backed by a vociferous crowd, an upset could be on the cards as a tired Newcastle may not have enough juice in the tank for a blood-and-thunder derby.
Watford v Chesterfield (Sat, 11pm)
Chesterfield supporters must fancy their chances of an upset, as they have snapped up all 4,000 tickets for their visit to Vicarage Road. And why not? Chesterfield have already claimed two higher-league opponents in the opening rounds. The visitors will be hoping that the Hornets will rotate their squad as they focus on getting into the play-off spots in the championship.
With Watford famous for sacking managers, they have had three in each of their last two seasons in the top flight. Valerien Ismael risks getting the chop if his side are embarrassed at home by a huge scoreline.
Gillingham v Sheffield United (Sat, 11pm)
Gillingham upset the odds in the last round by beating League One Charlton Athletic and will be looking for a much bigger scalp with the visit of struggling Sheffield United. Mired at the foot of the Premiership, it will be interesting to see if Chris Wilder opts to give some of his senior players a breather or uses the FA Cup as a much-needed distraction.
A comfortable victory would boost confidence in a team struggling in the top flight. A defeat to a League Two side would be unthinkable, as it would hammer home the message that the Blades do not belong among the elite.
Chelsea v Preston North End (Sun, 1.30am)
Chelsea’s problems are well documented. The spending spree that has seen over £1 billion change hands since Ted Boehly took over at Stamford Bridge has led to a bloated squad struggling to find rhythm and consistency. Mauricio Pochettino is struggling to impose his style on the squad and will be hoping an extended run in the FA Cup will give his squad more playing time.
Already in the semis of the League Cup, a similar showing in the world’s oldest knockout competition will at the very least convince the board that Pochettino is the right man to knock this motley collection of stars into a trophy-winning side.
West Bromwich Albion v Aldershot Town (Sun, 10pm)
Who says the magic of the FA Cup is dead? Try telling the 4,600 Aldershot faithful who come to the Hawthorns expecting to pull off an upset. The National League side put seven past League Two’s Swindon Town in the first round in a thrilling 7-4 encounter. The Albion are in a play-off spot in the championship and will be forgiven if they rest key personnel to focus on promotion efforts.
The Baggies looked tired in their defeat to Swansea last weekend and will be wary of an Aldershot team relishing playing in front of a televised global audience.
Manchester City v Huddersfield Town (Sun, 10pm)
Huddersfield’s record against Manchester City is quite simply horrific. In 1987, when both sides were in the second tier, Huddersfield were utterly humiliated 10-1. When both were in the top flight in 2018-19 season, Manchester City handed out a 6-1 drubbing to help push Huddersfield towards relegation. The following season was not much better as Huddersfield suffered a 5-1 hammering in the FA Cup.
With City having completed a clean sweep of trophies, including the recent Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia, things look pretty ominous for Huddersfield. Even a heavily rotated City side will be expected to hand out another thrashing.
Arsenal v Liverpool (Mon, 12.30am)
A clash of the titans in the pick of the third round ties. Both sides tied at Anfield in a thrilling league encounter a couple weeks ago and will meet again in a month’s time. Arsenal are in desperate need of a pick-me-up after suffering three losses in their last five games which have seen them surrender the top spot in the league.
Liverpool will need to find a way to live without talisman Mo Salah who is away on international duty for the Africa Cup of Nations. They will also be missing Wataru Endo who will captain Japan at the Asian Cup. On top of this, Liverpool also have a semi-final to navigate in a two-legged tie against Fulham in the League Cup, highlighting the need to carefully rotate without disrupting the team’s rhythm.
Wigan Athletic v Manchester United (Tues, 4.15am)
The tie is completely sold out as Wigan looks to the FA Cup for a touch of magic. After nearly going into administration last season and starting this season with an eight-point penalty for financial irregularities, Wigan are hoping to start the new year with a famous scalp. With the Red Devils the epitome of inconsistency this season, Wigan supporters will be hoping to roar their side to an upset. They have only beaten their illustrious opponents once in their history.
Just so happens that the goal scorer that day is current Latic’s boss, Shaun Maloney. An early exit from the FA Cup for Manchester United would pile even more pressure on beleaguered boss Erik ten Haag. – Jan 6, 2023
Main photo credit: The FA