Just as the mayhem of festive league football calms, clubs are thrown straight into the FA Cup. The excitement of the Third Round might not be quite what it was for England’s elite, but there are plenty of teams delighted to be playing this weekend. There’s a feast of televised football. Well, let’s call it a continuation of the feast that began even a while before our turkey gluttony.
I’m sure you’re all manipulating your weekend plans to watch every second of FA Cup football, so it’s only fair we point you in the right direction with a few tips here.
Liverpool vs Everton
Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klopp duelled at Anfield a few weeks ago. Somehow, Everton snatched a draw thanks to a suspect penalty decision and some back-to-the-wall defending.
Since then, the Toffees have consolidated their position in the Premier League. Allardyce has done exactly what we all expected, but little more. Four matches without a win may well provoke more spending this window.
Form – as we are tediously told – does not matter in local derbies. I don’t buy that. Liverpool were extremely unlucky not to win on last time and should have far too much for this Everton team.
Klopp, as with all the top six managers, needs to bring silverware this season, and might be targeting the FA Cup. We could see a surprisingly strong side for this one with a week off afterwards.
Manchester United vs Derby County
Manchester United will hope they brought an end to their torrid run with their victory over Everton last time out. Three straight draws and that infamous loss to Bristol City had Jose Mourinho on the cusp of combusting.
A home tie in the Third Round is always good news for a top team. In this case, Manchester United should be worried about their opponent. Derby have been excellent this season, and sit second in the Championship.
The Rams have an opportunity to prove they can live with the best teams in the world, as they will have to do should they earn promotion.
United, meanwhile, are short of form. This is now their best chance of silverware, though, and I am expecting an efficient, if unspectacular, performance.
Fleetwood Town vs Leicester City
Despite being smack bang in the middle of League One, Fleetwood Town are probably at greater risk of relegation than reaching the playoffs. That will be far from the minds of the fans on Saturday, however, when they welcome one of the most famous clubs in the world.
Leicester are one of the teams that are tailor-made for cup football. Dropping into the Championship is improbable at worse, and Europa League qualification is very unlikely. The FA Cup, then, is their chance to make something of this season.
Claude Puel’s side have been a bit up and down of late, but they have the depth to stride to victory even with a heavily rotated team.
Tip: Leicester City to win at 11/20
Norwich City vs Chelsea
Saturday evening’s kick-off sees attention turn to Carrow Road. Norwich had an okay time over Christmas and New Year, but remain in the indifference of the Championship midriff.
Chelsea were a few seconds from a brilliant festive period themselves. It was ruined by a screamer from Hector Bellerin on Wednesday, but Antonio Conte will be happy enough to see his team six points clear of fifth place.
The Blues are likely to rotate for this one, especially with the Carabao Cup semi-final coming up. That will mean a rare sighting of Michy Batshuayi and a probable rest for Eden Hazard. The reigning Premier League champions should still run out relatively comfortable winners, however.
Tip: Chelsea to win at 11/25
Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal
Nottingham Forest are on a five-match winless run in the Championship. That, though, is the beauty of cup football. They can approach this with a confidence, and know there is nothing to lose facing an Arsenal side who were in action on Wednesday.
Arsene Wenger will name an almost entirely different team from the one that drew with Chelsea. It will still be strong, but far from the star-studded eleven that we might have seen if this was a quarter-final.
This should be a mismatch, and really should be a comfortable win for the visitors. Arsenal being Arsenal, though, changes that somewhat. It would be so very Arsenal to slip up here.
Forest have the advantage of being such severe underdogs, and I think they might just force a replay.
Tip: Match to be drawn at 17/5
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*