The FA Cup 3rd Round has become somewhat of an inconvenience to top flight managers, falling on the first Saturday of the New Year and right after the congested festive fixture programme that has seemingly broken Pep and Jurgen. Who wants a cup run anyway?
For Pep it seems this might be his only route to silverware, but his charges face the awkward trip to The London Stadium. Bilic’s sour mood won’t have been improved by the Mike Dean show on Monday, but what we all want to see is Andy Carroll being let loose on Claudio Bravo. Be a sport, Pep, and play the beleaguered Chilean.
Man Utd’s 467th consecutive FA Cup tie is on TV! Whilst 467 is an exaggeration, they face Jaap Stam’s Reading in what will no doubt be a white-hot 2-0 win for the Red Devils. With Reading going well in the Championship this is probably an ideal draw for Jaap to secure an early exit. “FA Cup Romance” is in short supply, with Liverpool and Chelsea facing lower league opposition at home it seems probable both will get through fielding reserve teams. No doubt Steve Bruce has got his eyes more on getting Villa into the playoff reckoning than trying to mount a challenge at White Hart Lane.
There is perhaps a tale to be told at Deepdale, where Preston welcome Arsenal. With Arsene expected to rotate his team, can a physical Preston side upset the Gunners? It’s the fixture with the most possibilities, especially if Jenkinson plays.
There are three all Premier League clashes, including a match between the bottom two as Swansea visit Hull. Paul Clement will want to make an early impression but neither side needs the extra games so there’s a chance both teams will try and gift it to the other. In Swansea’s case you probably won’t notice the difference. Hull have the added ‘bonus’ of a two legged EFL Cup semi final for their already threadbare squad to contend with. Sunderland welcome Burnley in another ill fated clash – will Sunderland go looking for revenge for their mauling from Andre Gray last weekend? Probably not. With Moyes’ squad ravaged by injury and African Nations Cup call-ups, David must be cursing that Jack Rodwell has somehow stayed fit to return to the lineup. Despite playing against 10 men for an hour, Burnley did a great job of looking like they were a man light at Man City and no doubt Dyche’s number one priority is survival. All we can hope for is that Joey Barton is given his re-debut against a club he seems to enjoy winding up.
The final all Premier League clash sees Premier League Champions (in name only) Leicester travel to Everton. Koeman has opted for that age old tactic of playing your youth team around the transfer window opening as a cry for help whilst Leicester just can’t win away from home. Both teams could do with winning this otherwise Leicester’s season will be over in February (unless they can carry their Champions League form to a two legged win over Sevilla) whilst Everton’s is already hanging by a thread. With a few extra bodies Everton could be a dark horse to have a decent run, as they aim to match last year’s semi final appearance.
A story has developed by Sam Allardyce taking the Palace job, in that he gets to visit his former employers Bolton, now in League One. That Palace side shouldn’t be 17th but Big Sam will no doubt be focused on the relegation battle, meaning luminaries such as Frazier Campbell will get their chance to shine here. If Palace do survive this potential banana skin I still wouldn’t be backing them to match last year’s final appearance.
As for the rest, Milwall isn’t an easy place to go for Bournemouth (or anybody with a pulse) whilst Norwich and Southampton could feasibly play out a pair of 0-0 draws. West Brom are my outside bet for a decent cup run, they are visited by a resurgent Derby but as they have nearly reached the Pulis milestone of 40 points, anything else is irrelevant so Tony and his hat could set piece their way into the later stages. Stoke vs Wolves is not a match I can get excited about, but not quite as bad as Watford vs Burton. The third match in this trio of Premier League vs Championship match-ups is Middlesbrough vs Sheffield Wednesday – when is the Premier League back again!?