The Premier League’s heavyweights join the relative minnows of English football as the FA Cup enters its third round. The likes of Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United will be keen to get one over their far more illustrious opponents.
Meanwhile, the ties of the round will see Tottenham Hotspur welcome high-flying Leicester City to White Hart Lane while Crystal Palace travel to St. Mary’s for their clash with Southampton.
Friday 8 January
Exeter City 15/2
One of the biggest miss-matches of the third round sees League Two minnows, Exeter City welcome Liverpool to St. James’ Park. The home side currently occupy 16th spot on the League Two table and look likely to finish the season comfortably enough in mid-table. They’ve had a relatively easy run heading into the third round, having defeated Didcot Town 3-0 in their first round tie before cruising to a 2-0 win at home to Port Vale. They’ll have to be at their best if they’re going to have any chance of getting past Liverpool who haven’t been in the greatest form themselves recently.
St. James’ Park will be packed to capacity on Friday evening in what will be Exeter’s biggest match in recent memory. Paul Tisdale, the second longest-serving manager in English football (behind Arsene Wenger) – and one of the most respected – is thrilled at the prospect of welcoming Jurgen Klopp and his charges to come Friday evening. Liverpool’s German manager is likely to field a weakened XI on Friday – although the likes of Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Jordan Ibe could all feature. The game also represents the ideal opportunity to reintroduce Jon Flannagan back into the first team. The fullback missed the majority of 2015 with a debilitating knee injury following his massively impressive breakthrough season where Liverpool fell agonisingly short of the Premier League title. Although the Reds are likely to take a weakened squad to Exeter on Friday, I do think they’ll claim the victory. Back Liverpool on the Halftime-Fulltime Double at 17/20.
Saturday 9 January
Wycombe Wanderers 7/5
Aston Villa 11/10
Wycombe Wanderers will actually fancy their chances against Aston Villa, who have been woeful this season. Wycombe have enjoyed quite a successful season thus far in League Two and currently occupy the sixth and final play-off spot. Villa on the other hand have been atrocious and already look as though they’ll be relegated come the end of the season. They’re currently 11 points adrift of safety with only one win in 20 games.
For Remi Garde and his side, a strong showing in the FA Cup might be the only way to get an increasingly impatient Villa faithful back on side. Garde will more than likely field his strongest possible side on Saturday as defeat against Wanderers would be absolutely disastrous. The sides actually met in 2005 in the FA Cup. Wanderers went into the break 3-1 up against Gareth Barry’s Villa side only to end up imploding to an 8-3 defeat. Looking at the sides on paper, Villa should really win this tie, but this is the FA Cup and giant killings are not unheard of. I really do think Wycombe will come out firing on Saturday afternoon, and if they get their noses in front, they could well go on to book their place in the fourth round at the expense of the Villains. Villa have had defensive woes this season and I can see Wycombe nicking a goal or two. Back both teams to score at 17/20.
Sunderland will have been bitterly disappointed after drawing Arsenal in the third round. I’m sure Big Sam and his men would’ve liked to go up against a side from the lower leagues. They may yet prove to be a banana peel for Arsene Wenger, whose squad will likely consist of second stringers. Arsenal currently sit atop the Premier League standings while Sunderland are feeding off of scraps in 19th spot. If the Black Cats are to get anything out of this game they’ll need the likes of Jermain Defoe, Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini to be at their best. Their pace and movement could cause the likes of Per Mertesacker problems. The big German has something of a reputation for being a bit statuesque at times.
Arsenal have been on a decent run of late winning six of their last seven games in all competitions – the only blip on that record coming in a shock 4-0 defeat away to Southampton on Boxing Day. I’m fairly certain that Wenger will mix up his squad a bit, using a sprinkling of experienced players with a few of the guys on the fringes. David Ospina will probably get a game between the sticks with Petr Cech set to get the evening off. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are also unlikely to feature while Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini look set to start in midfield. Sam Allardyce will be keen to go on a bit of a cup run, and as such, should field his strongest XI. With that being said, I still don’t really see Sunderland giving Arsenal too many problems at the Emirates. Back the Gunners to book their place in the fourth round with a fairly straight-forward victory at 2/9.
Man United 3/10
Sheffield United 9/1
Wayne Rooney’s 75th-minute winner against Swansea City over the weekend went some way in easing the pressure on Louis van Gaal. For United, it was their first win in nine matches in all competitions having suffered shock defeats to the likes of Bournemouth. Whether or not van Gaal will field a weakened XI remains to be seen. The United faithful – who demand that their team is competitive in all competitions – will be hoping that their Dutch manager fields an experienced XI. Wayne Rooney will more than likely start in a bid to build on the goal he scored last week. There may well be starts for talented youngsters, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Tyler Blackett set to star in United’s back four.
Sheffield United find themselves two divisions below their illustrious opponents in League One where they currently occupy eighth spot. They beat Worcester City 3-0 in the first round before a scrappy 1-0 win at home to Oldham saw them book their place in the third round. They’re in decent enough form having only lost once in their last six games – that defeat coming last time out in a 3-2 defeat to Peterborough. The Blades have been in decent enough nick this season, though I can’t really see them claiming the win here. With United being as shaky as ever at the back though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they grabbed a goal. Back both teams to score at 11/10.
Sunday 10 January
Scunthorpe United 12/1
There could be another giant-killing on the cards as Chelsea prepare to welcome Scunthorpe United to Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening. The Blues have turned a corner since the sacking of Jose Mourinho with the players seemingly enjoying life under a manager who puts the club’s fortunes before his own ego. Sass aside, the London club are picking up momentum and haven’t been defeated since their 2-1 reverse away to Leicester. Guus Hiddink is likely to field a significantly weakened side as he focusses his immediate attention on the Champions League and the Premiership. Asmir Begovic will probably start in goal while Kurt Zouma, Baba Rahman and Ola Aina could all feature in defence. Chelsea fans will be hoping to see Ruben Loftus-Cheek get another chance to stake a claim in the first team. Costa will also probably drop to the bench with either Loic Remy or the misfiring Falcao starting in his place.
Scunthorpe overcame Southend in round one after beating them 2-1 before dumping Leyton Orient out of the competition with a 3-0 win. They look as though they’ll finish comfortably enough in mid-table come the end of the season. Mark Robins will be desperate to upset the outgoing English Champions on their own patch. History doesn’t look as though it favours the Iron, however, as the club haven’t made it passed the third round since the 2009/10. I fully expect Chelsea to walk this fixture. Take the Matchbet + Totals market with Over 3.5 goals and a Chelsea win at 11/10.