Every year there are the usual discussions around the supposed devaluing of the FA Cup. However, of late, the competition has had something of a rebirth. The larger clubs do seem to be taking it more seriously, and once more it is seen as something that is very much worth winning. Whether the reason for winning is for prestige, for a place in Europe, to save a season or job, or simply for winning’s sake, it doesn’t matter. Here is our pick of the third-round ties.
Manchester City v Port Vale
It is only December, but it is starting to look like the league title may be beyond City. They are in third place—fourteen points off top spot—and drifting further behind Liverpool at the bookies. That is bad news for their opponents in the cup competitions, as their focus is bound to shift. Port Vale, who are currently midtable in League 2, will see this as a game with nothing to lose—a chance for their players and manager to play perhaps their biggest game on the biggest stage of their lives. The board will be looking to pocket enough money to maybe invest in the squad to push them up the table. These two teams have met once before in the cup, with Man City coming away 2-1 winners.
Rochdale or Boston United v Newcastle United
At the time of writing, Boston’s replay with Rochdale has not yet taken place. The National League North outfit were not fortunate enough to book a place as the third non-league team in the first leg, and whoever wins the replay will fancy their chances against a Newcastle side that, though resurgent in recent weeks, will still have more than half an eye on EPL safety. That said, if Steve Bruce can secure Toon’s first proper silverware since 1955, he will be suddenly propelled to hero status.
Chelsea v Nottingham Forest
The number one priorities for both of these clubs are making the top four and promotion, respectively. Each of these is just the kind of club, though, that will look at the FA Cup and think it has a real chance of giving it a proper go. As a result, this could very well be one of the most enthralling ties of the whole round. In the five games they have faced each other in the cup, Chelsea have been victorious four times, with one game going to a replay.
Wolves v Manchester United
On current form, these are two of the clubs in the best form outside of the top two, and they are additional candidates for tie of the round. That is not something you would have thought two months ago, after a poor start saw both teams struggle. Wolves almost went all the way last season and must be confident of doing as well, if not even better, this time round. In all likelihood, United will go into this fixture as underdogs, but success in this competition, though not keeping all his critics quiet, will go a long way towards achieving that for Solksjaer. These clubs have met nine times in the cup. Utd have won four of those, drawn twice and lost three times.
Sheffield United v AFC Fylde
One of the non-league teams definitely in the third round, National League Fylde booked their place by beating Kingstonian. The away draw means they are less likely to progress, and will cost them a TV spot, but it still represents a huge payday. The Blades, while not wanting to take their eye off the ball in what has been a fantastic start to their EPL season, will also want to carry on their momentum against a side they have never played before.
Liverpool v Everton
This is a tie that neither club, in all honesty, would have wanted—though the fans will be rubbing their hands at the prospect. The FA Cup will be low down on Klopp’s priority list, but his side will not want to surrender limply to their rivals. Whoever Everton’s new manager is, it is the league that they will be judged on; but an early exit to Liverpool is not something he will want on his CV. There have been 24 Merseyside derbies in the cup. Liverpool have won eleven and Everton seven, with six needing another game.
Arsenal v Leeds
These clubs find themselves in the same situation as the two in the Chelsea Forest game, with Arsenal having the added pressure of having a new manager. For the neutral it should be a great game; both sets of fans will fear a loss will set them on a course that will ruin their respective seasons. The FA Cup has seen these go head-to-head sixteen times, with Arsenal winning seven, seven draws, and Leeds running out winners just twice.