By Ryan Moran
- Exeter face Liverpool in the opening game of the third round.
- Eastleigh are the lowest ranked side still in the competition.
- Sunderland face the Gunners in the third round.
London, UK – Arsenal start on the road to a third successive FA Cup with the visit of Sunderland while Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea look to avoid a cup upset.
The Davids looking to beat the Goliaths
The FA Cup returns in all its glory with six teams from League One and League Two facing Premier League opposition, while National League Premier side Eastleigh take on Championship strugglers Bolton. All of the action kicks off of Friday as Liverpool travel to St James’ Park, not that one, Exeter’s home ground with a lighter squad than usual.
It is only the first time the Grecians have qualified for the third round since 2005, drawing at Old Trafford against Manchester United before being knocked out in the replay. Liverpool are without a recognised centre back with Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure ruled out through injury. The sides last met in 1950 in the FA Cup, Liverpool claiming a 3-1 victory. The home side will be without key midfielder David Wheeler, an ankle injury keeping him on the sidelines. Exeter manager Paul Tisdale has been in charge since June 2006, in that time Liverpool have had five different managers from Rafael Benitez to current manager Jurgen Klopp, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers the other managers to have been in the dugout in Tisdale’s nine and a half years at St James’ Park.
54 places separate Aston Villa and League Two promotion hopefuls Wycombe Wanderers, who have named 46-year-old goal keeping coach Barry Richardson on the bench for Saturday’s clash. After a poor league campaign so far, Remi Garde will hope for a cup run to boost confidence and give something back to the fans with relegation looking a probability, similar to Tim Sherwood’s Villa side who came runners-up to Arsenal last season. Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup and were relegated from the Premier League a few days later, Ben Watson scoring against Manchester City in 2013.
While financial benefits from the competition usually benefit the non-league sides, the money wouldn’t go a miss at Bolton, who travel to face National League Premier side Eastleigh. Similar to Villa, a cup run could kick-start a surge in league form starting by avoiding a cup upset at the hands of a non-league side. If the home side progress, it will the first time the club have made the fourth round with this also being their first time in the third round.
League Two side Oxford United host Swansea City while Dagenham & Redbridge travel to Goodison Park in the hope of being a giant killer. Alan Curtis was this week named Swans manager until the end of the season, hoping to start his reign with the Welsh side embarking on a cup run.
Sheffield United face a Manchester United prone to a cup upset, beaten by Leeds United six years ago at Old Trafford, Jermaine Beckford on the score sheet that day. The Blades’ cup form in recent years gives them every chance of replicating Leeds United’s success six years ago. Scunthorpe United would have fancied themselves when Chelsea were managed by Jose Mourinho, now under the guidance of Guus Hiddink the Blues have improved, beating Crystal Palace in the league to move six points clear of the relegation zone. With claims of a bust up between Oscar and Diego Costa, the Irons may have come to Stamford Bridge at the right time to cause a similar upset to the one Bradford City caused last season.
Premier League teams go head to head for cup glory
Five FA Cup ties see Premier League teams line up against each other, with Tottenham vs Leicester the pick of the games, Jamie Vardy’s injury a blow for Claudio Ranieri’s side. The league meeting between the two sides ended in a draw, Riyad Mahrez opening a minute before Dele Alli’s equalizer at the King Power Stadium.
Sunderland will hope to avenge the 3-1 league defeat when the Black Cats travel to the Emirates Stadium for a second time this season. The Gunners are looking to retain the cup for a third successive year, having beaten Villa in the final last season and Hull City the season before.
Norwich will hope to avoid a third consecutive defeat in the third round of this competition with Manchester City failing to make the fourth round only once in the last six years, defeat against Manchester United in 2012 their only loss.
Southampton’s form has taken a nose dive in recent weeks, one win in their last eight league games, the cup may be a welcome break for Ronald Koeman’s side with Crystal Palace the visitors, fresh from defeat against Chelsea. Having been knocked out by the Eagles in the fourth round last year, revenge will be wanted by the South Coast outfit.
Watford are flirting with the possibility of Europe while Newcastle are flirting with the relegation zone. League form is forgotten when it comes to the magic of the cup where anything is possible, a competition many have criticised the Magpies of not taking seriously in recent years. Can Steve McLaren end that run at Vicarage Road?
League form goes out the window
The magic of the cup makes anything possible, for Colchester and Charlton that allows them to put recent form to bed. Both sides find themselves down the wrong end of their respective leagues, with Tony Humes and Guy Luzon feeling the full force of modern day football.
Hartlepool welcome a Derby side relishing in the Premier League promotion places, while Ronnie Moore’s Pool side needed a replay to defeat Salford City of the Northern League Premier. Paul Clement will experience the cup for the first time as manager, having been assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid before taking his first managerial job at the iPro Stadium.
Neil Redfearn and Steve Evans swapped jobs, with Redfearn taking over at Rotherham and Evans taking over at Leeds, the sides now meet with a place in the fourth round the reward. Elland Road sets the scene with the Millers needing to decide between a cup run or league survival, while both could cause a fixture build up come the crucial end of the season for Redfearn’s struggling Rotherham side.
Of the weekend’s other fixtures:
Birmingham City vs AFC Bournemouth
Brentford vs Walsall
Bury vs Bradford
Cardiff City vs Shrewsbury Town
Doncaster vs Stoke City
Huddersfield vs Reading
Hull City vs Brighton & Hove Albion
Ipswich vs Portsmouth
Middlesbrough vs Burnley
Northampton vs MK Dons
Nottingham Forest vs Queens Park Rangers
Peterborough United vs Preston
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fulham
West Bromwich Albion vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Carlisle vs Yeovil
League Two Exeter host Premier League Liverpool on Friday 8th January in the hope of producing an upset.
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