Yeah baby, the FA Cup, the world’s oldest and best domestic cup competition, is back as we kick off 4 days of football. Last season’s FA Cup was a little bit special and in the third round proper this time last year, we enjoyed some exciting ties. We saw the big guns clash as Manchester United overcame Liverpool 1-0, we saw the battle of the big spenders as Premier League money bags Manchester City beat Championship cash-flashers Leicester City 4-2 and no third round is complete without a giant killing as then League Two side Stevenage beat Premier League Newcastle 3-1, registering their first ever victory over top tier opposition. It was a round filled with both excitement and incident as during the Stevenage tie a fan ran on to the pitch and punched Stevenage full-back Scott Laird in the face! No one will be hoping for a repeat of such scenes this weekend, but we have the ingredients for a great few days of football. Let’s take a look at a few of this season’s best ties in the FA Cup third round:
Tottenham v Cheltenham
Saturday 3.00pm Kick-off
Spurs are having one heck of a season, riding high in third position in the Premier League with their form encouraging them to have title aspirations. Not everything has gone their way this season after already exiting the Europa League and Carling Cup, but the FA Cup seems like one competition Harry Redknapp actually wants to be in. Cheltenham Town are also having a good season with title aspirations of their own as they currently lie second in League Two behind leaders Crawley Town. Spurs maybe a team with a reputation of being a good cup side, but Cheltenham Town will enjoy a day out to White Hart Lane in the hope of a giant killing result against their Premier League hosts. This is the cup, anything could happen!
Team news: Spurs Boss Harry Redknapp will ring the changes as Michael Dawson is set to make his first start in four months, whilst fringe players Bassong, Dos Santos and Pavlychenko will all get their chance. Cheltenham are at full strength.
Prediction: Spurs will be too strong – but you never know…
Manchester City v Manchester United
Sunday 1.00pm Kick-off
Live ITV 1
First v Second/Local Derby/ Battle of the big guns…
Wow, what a game to come out of the hat/bag for the third round proper. They don’t come much bigger than this, especially with both clubs respective league positions. The questions that are being raised about the quality of Manchester United squad, the inexperience and depletion of Manchester City’s squad and just the fact that this is just a local derby all make this the tie of the cup, not just the round. Both managers value the FA Cup and Manchester City will not want to give up their current crown to their city neighbours – this has all the makings of an absolute classic and therefore will probably be rubbish! A win for either team will boost them psychologically as we enter the second half of the season and the title race intensifies. No one will want a replay from this one, so let’s hope for the best!
Team News: Manchester City are without the Toure bros. as they were refused permission to join up with the Ivory Coast a day late. Gareth Barry is suspended and Owen Hargreaves is also out. Despite knocks Dzeko and Nasri should play. Manchester United will be without injured defensive duo Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling. Fabio is also doubtful, whilst Vidic, Young, Fletcher and Cleverley are all long-term absentees.
Prediction: Will be won and lost in midfield, which Manchester United will probably pack with 5, therefore a draw if United defend well.
Arsenal v Leeds United
Monday 7.45pm Kick-off
A game of revenge!
This time last year these two clubs clashed in the FA Cup third round; Leeds were flying high, lying in fifth place in the Championship with aspirations of a return to the Premier League. Arsenal were moving between second and third in the Premier League and had a team packed with quality, such as now departed stars Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy. Two teams in such form made for one hell of a game that finished 1-1 following a last-minute Fabregas penalty to keep Arsenal’s record of not being beaten by lower league opposition in the cup for 15 years, intact. In the replay Arsenal ran-out comfortable 3-1 winners as reality kicked in for the Leeds United. This season Leeds will have no reason to fear the trip to the Emirates after coming so close last time. There is a bigger story that will over-shadow the fact this is a carbon copy of last year’s tie…and that is the return of the king, Thierry Henry. As news filtered through this morning that Henry WOULD be eligible for Monday’s match, a buzz went out around Arsenal fans and no doubt players, which will only make this encounter more spicy. Should be a good one!
Team News: Henry has gone straight into the squad for Arsenal, but they will be without Gervinho who is also at the African Cup of Nations, but the good news for Arsenal fans is Chamakh will be available after delaying his departure (yay). Arsenal will be missing the suspended Djourou, plus the injured Gibbs Vermaelen, Sagna, Jenkinson, Santos, Diaby and Wilshere. Leeds also have injury worries with Kisnorbo out for the season and Snodgrass and Howson still out. They will be boosted by the return of Tom Lees and Darren O’Dea, but Alex Bruce is 50:50. Andros Townsend has been given permission by Spurs to play and should start.
Prediction: Tough one to call, but Arsenal should complete Henry’s fairytale return with a win.