Biggest Weekend of the Season for Football Romantics as the FA Cup 3rd Round Takes Place

After what has already been a massively hectic Christmas and New Year period for English football teams, there’s no respite as we head into the first weekend of January; the weekend which for many football purists remains the most exciting weekend of the season.

That’s because the first weekend in January has traditionally been when the Third Round of the FA Cup takes place. The point at which the 44 teams in the top two divisions of English football, the Premier League and Championship enter the fray against the 20 other qualifiers from the two lower leagues plus Non-League.

In recent times, the excitement of this particular weekend has been diminished somewhat by top teams’ reluctance to field first choice starting elevens for the matches. With the FA Cup not having the cash available for the teams competing compared to the Premier League or Champions League, it has since become a secondary issue very much for the top teams and indeed, even some Championship level teams.

So much so that many teams often field second-string teams for these games, which feature fringe players mixed in with a number of promising youngsters, while the top stars tend to get a rest.

There’s no denying that this does diminish the appeal of the competition and has led to claims that top sides are degrading the history of what was once English football’s most famous and most prestigious knockout tournament.

However, the flip side of this means that the chances for upsets as lower opposition take on the top teams can be increased and this of course means that as a punter, we are looking for these games where a longer odds team has a realistic chance of causing an upset, or as it is called in FA Cup parlance, a Giant-killing.

Before we take a look at the most attractive games for this, let’s run down the 32 matches taking place in the competition this weekend from Friday through to Monday evening.

FA Cup Third Round Draw (all games 3pm kick off unless stated)

Friday 5th January 2018

  • Liverpool v Everton (7.55pm)
  • Manchester United v Derby County (8pm)

Saturday 6th January

  • Fleetwood Town v Leicester City (12.45pm)
  • Middlesbrough v Sunderland (1pm)
  • Aston Villa v Peterborough
  • Birmingham City v Burton Albion
  • Blackburn Rovers v Hull City
  • Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town
  • Bournemouth v Wigan Athletic
  • Brentford v Notts County
  • Cardiff City v Mansfield Town
  • Coventry City v Stoke City
  • Doncaster Rovers v Rochdale
  • Exeter City v West Bromwich Albion
  • Fulham v Southampton
  • Ipswich Town v Sheffield United
  • Manchester City v Burnley
  • Millwall v Barnsley
  • Newcastle United v Luton Town
  • P.R v MK Dons
  • Stevenage Borough v Reading
  • Watford v Bristol City
  • Wolves v Swansea City
  • Wycombe Wanderers v Preston North End
  • Yeovil Town v Bradford City
  • Norwich City v Chelsea (5.30pm)

Sunday 7th January

  • Newport County v Leeds United (12pm)
  • Shrewsbury Town v West Ham (2pm)
  • Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Wimbledon
  • Nottingham Forest v Arsenal (4pm)

Monday 8th January

  • Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace

Looking through the fixtures outlined above, we have come to the conclusion that the following games offer us the best chance of landing one of those big FA Cup upsets.

Liverpool v Everton 

These teams met just a few weeks back with Everton earning a fortuitous 1-1 draw at Anfield thanks to a Wayne Rooney penalty cancelling out Mo Salah’s strike for the home side. However, this game promises to be very different as after a massively hectic Christmas and New Year schedule for both sides, I do expect Jurgen Klopp to rest many of his first teamers for this game.

Mo Salah is already ruled out through injury and it will be interesting to see if Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino play after they didn’t start against Burnley on New Year’s Day, or whether Klopp will give his key men an extra games rest ahead of a massive clash with Manchester City the following weekend.

My gut feeling is here that Klopp will likely rest several stars for this game and that he will field a below strength side. That gives Everton a chance as I think Sam Allardyce may also be tempted to rest some stars, but I feel he will likely play a team closer to his first XI than Klopp will.

As such, the fact you can get Everton to win this game at odds of around 7/1 with some bookmakers makes them a very enticing bet.

Coventry City v Stoke City

Stoke boss Mark Hughes is under huge pressure after resting his key stars against Chelsea, but then his team conspired to lose their next game with lowly Newcastle United, which has piled the pressure on the Welshman. Now he takes his team to Midlands rivals Coventry City, a League Two outfit who lie third in the table and who have won both of their last two games and four of their last five.

In the past Hughes has tended to rest players for early rounds of the FA Cup, especially against lower league opposition, but the temptation must be great for him to play some first teamers to try and get a win and some confidence back after a terrible run of form in recent months.

However, they face a Coventry side that is buoyant after climbing the League Two table and whose recent form is excellent.  The Sky Blues are around 9/2 with some bookies to win this one and while I am not quite convinced they’ll get the win inside 90 minutes, I can see a replay being required to separate the teams. A such I think 3/1 on a draw is a very good shout here.

Manchester City v Burnley

Manchester City are no strangers to playing an under-strength team in the FA Cup and with Josep Guardiola complaining recently about the amount of fixtures his players have had to play over Christmas and New Year, I think that gives us an inside view of to what his team will likely be for this game and it would not surprise me to see a City team devoid of almost all first teamers and with many young and fringe players given a chance.

Sean Dyche’s Burnley have also played many games over this period but the no-nonsense Clarets boss is in a nice position. With Burnley flying high in the Premier League, the pressure on him to pick up points isn’t great and I feel he could be tempted to play a stronger team here to perhaps give themselves a chance of a win.

I, for one, hope that he does as I feel a near full-strength Burnley side could well get a result here that would shock the football establishment, especially if City, as expected, field a team of reserves and youth team players.  You can back Burnley at 18/1 with some bookies to win this one and I think that is worth a £1 of anybody’s money given the changes that City could make to their side.

Remember, the last time they did this, was in the Champions League away at Shakhtar Donetsk and they ended up losing that game.