The New Year has arrived, and Christmas trees are starting to adorn curbs instead of living rooms up and down the land. It can mean only one thing, time for the third round of the FA Cup.
The traditional time of year when the big clubs enter the World’s most famous cup competition has thrown up no shortage of intriguing matches. There are local derbies, potential upsets and teams looking to progress further than they ever have before. 2018’s third round promises to provide an exciting four day weekend of football, despite suggestions of weakened sides and a lack of non-league underdogs.
Local bragging rights
Two games instantly caught the eye when the draw was made in December. The Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton, scheduled for Friday night, was the first. The bitter rivalry is the most frequent FA Cup fixture in the later rounds and promises to be an interesting affair. Both clubs have a lot on their plates in the League and could allow fringe players the opportunity to impress.
The second rivalry that got pulses racing after the draw was the M23 Derby. It might not be the first local derby that springs to mind for many football fans, but it’s fiercely contested nonetheless, especially now both sides are in the Premier League. They’ve met twice before in the cup and have won once each. Brighton have performed well in their inaugural Premier League season and Palace’s form has improved, so this promises to be an exciting Monday night main event to complete the weekend.
Championship sides Middlesbrough and Sunderland also face off at The Riverside Stadium. They’ve met five times before with Sunderland winning on three occasions. It should have been four, but in 1888 Sunderland were disqualified for fielding professional players, despite winning the game 4-2. Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City face local opposition in Burnley. They may rest players with a League Cup semi-final and the knockout rounds of the Champions League on the horizon. Burnley beware, however, as City thrashed West Ham 5-0 at this stage last year.
Sadly, there are no non-league teams left in the competition, but there are still plenty of opportunities for upsets. Several of the form teams in the Championship take on Premier League sides and will be eager to send a message as they push for promotion. Wolves and Swansea are only separated by one place despite being in different divisions, so victory for the midlanders might not even be seen as an upset.
Bristol City visit Watford having already beaten the Hornets at Vicarage Road this season. The Robins dramatically snatched a 3-2 victory in the early rounds of the League Cup. Derby have been in excellent form in the second tier, but face a tough trip to Old Trafford. They’ll try and follow the blueprint laid out by Bristol City, who knocked United out of the League Cup just before Christmas.
The largest league gap in terms of divisions is the contest between Luton Town, from League Two, and Premier League Newcastle. Luton have been a revelation this season, but a trip to the top tier outfit could be a step too far. It will also be an interesting game for former Toon star Rob Lee. Both of his sons currently play for Luton.
Other potential upsets could come from teams from the North West. League One leaders Wigan travel to Bournemouth and Bolton entertain Huddersfield. Bolton have won all five of their previous FA Cup meetings with Huddersfield, and their form has improved markedly recently. Wigan are also unbeaten in the cup against their South Coast opponents, although they have only met twice.
Breaking new ground
Several teams could potentially achieve their finest FA Cup performance by reaching the fourth round, although fans of two of the sides might debate the validity of that statement. Fleetwood would make club history should they overcome Leicester and old boy, Jamie Vardy. Newport County and Wimbledon are the other sides that could make the fourth round for the first time in their new guises. Both clubs have reformed after folding and being forcibly removed respectively. The Welsh side face Leeds while Wimbledon return to the re-built site of their predecessors finest moment. They face the short trip up to Wembley to face Spurs.
Thanks to https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/ for the excellent cup stats.