The Premier League takes a break this weekend having played for what is approaching 200 consecutive days (rough estimate). The first weekend of January will see the FA Cup 3rd Round get underway, which means the teams from the Championship and Premier League will join the party. It’s sure to kick off the old debate about how the FA Cup has lost it’s magic and that it is an unwanted distraction for clubs, especially after a busier than normal festive schedule. Still, whilst I expect to see a huge number of changes across the Premier League teams, a number of Premier League clubs have tricky looking ties, and nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a cup shock. So what can we expect from the 20 top flight clubs?
It is tradition now for the games to get underway on Friday night, with BBC televising the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton. An all Premier League clash and a derby to boot – not a bad way to start us off! The reality is that Liverpool are already without Salah and Coutinho and probably one or two others, whilst Big Sam seems to manage purely to get under the skin of others. Neither manager will want to lose but equally, a replay would be yet another fixture to overcome. It will be an interesting game, if not your typical 3rd round clash. Perhaps the biggest shock of this round will be Man Utd not being televised for the first time in 58 FA Cup ties. Their home clash with Derby will be played on Friday night as a result of Man City being at home on Saturday, but it will not be televised. Derby are in great form in the Championship but I can’t see them going to Old Trafford and getting anything.
Into Saturday then and there are classic FA Cup ties for 7 of the top flight sides, starting with the Saturday lunch time TV game between Fleetwood Town and Leicester. You can make this interesting by taking a drink every time Jamie Vardy is mentioned as being back at his former club, but the reality is that Claude Puel will want to rest his big hitters if possible whilst getting some minutes into the legs of the 14 seconds man Adrien Silva, not to mention Kelechi Iheanacho who can’t get near the pitch despite costing big bucks last summer. Fleetwood are managed by ex-Man City player Uwe Rosler, who probably scored an FA Cup goal at some point. I still think Leicester will come through, but I’m not sure I can say the same for Swansea, who are off to Wolves. There’s actually one place between these clubs on the league ladder, and Wolves are runaway leaders at the top of the Championship. I’d go as far to say that Wolves are favourites for this one, even if Carlos Carvalhal has breathed some new life into Swansea. On a similar note, Southampton won’t be relishing their trip to Craven Cottage. The Saints are in freefall after an awful run and travel to a Fulham side who haven’t quite hit the form of last season but are still very capable of scoring goals. There’s definitely a shock on the cards there, even if Shane Long is in line to score a goal a game during 2018. West Brom haven’t won since they beat Accrington Stanley in August, so a trip to Exeter will either be just what they need or another dark day for the Baggies. Pardew of course has reached a couple of FA Cup finals as manager so will always talk about his respect for the competition, something that saw him win one tie in four seasons as Newcastle manager. Under pressure Stoke manager Mark Hughes will want to avoid the headlines as he takes his side away to Coventry, but with the Sky Blues 3rd in League Two the Potters probably won’t get it all their own way. Huddersfield are at Bolton, who have problems of their own, so we might see two weakened sides in this one.
The final TV game on Saturday will see Chelsea travel to Norwich. I think we all expect Chelsea to win comfortably, it just hasn’t really sparked for Norwich this season and even if Chelsea rest a few, I imagine Willian and Pedro will get the job done – they could do worse than get Morata some minutes after his masterclass in not putting away your chances against Arsenal. I’m also backing Bournemouth to come through their home clash with Wigan, who of course so famously won this trophy in 2013 whilst being relegated. Newcastle host League Two leaders Luton, who score a boat load of goals, and whilst I hate predicting how my own team will get on it’s fair to say I will be livid if we lose at home to fourth tier opposition. Rafa Benitez shuffles his pack for league games so he’ll probably change the entire deck for this. Watford are in awful form so their home clash with Bristol City looks tricky, but Bristol City have Carabao Cup semi-finals on Tuesday and may be slightly distracted by that alongside their promotion quest. There’s also the all Premier League tie between Man City and Burnley to consider. It’s a rough draw for Burnley, who alongside a couple of other sides have a great chance to have a cup run this season, as they sit just outside the European places and well clear of relegation. However, hardly anybody has been able to even take a point off Pep’s men and I don’t think Dyche is going to be able to upset the form book here.
There are three games involving top flight sides on Sunday, too. Shrewsbury vs West Ham is intriguing, as the Shrews sit 2nd in League One and are having an unbelievable season, whereas West Ham have rallied under David Moyes but remain very close to the relegation zone along with about 8 other teams. Meanwhile, AFC Wimbledon are going to Wembley! A drawback of Tottenham playing their home games at Wembley is that it takes away the prestige of visiting the national stadium for the final, although that was partially already accomplished by playing the semis there too. This game is not televised but it’s very hard to see past a handsome Spurs win, and the day closes out with Nottingham Forest against Arsenal. This will be made all the more interesting if Forest have a new manager in place by Sunday but it’ll no doubt be an outing for Arsenal’s young stars plus Walcott, Welbeck, Coquelin and anybody else on the fringes.
That takes us to Monday, where the 4th round draw leads us into an all Premier League clash between Brighton and Crystal Palace. You’ve probably heard multiple times by now but it’s the first match to use VAR, as well as being a bit of a grudge match – these two just don’t like each other. It should be a feisty affair to round off the FA Cup weekend. If your team is playing, I hope they’re in the 4th round draw for you – but there are no guarantees in the FA Cup.