Following a hectic festive schedule of four league games in a little under two weeks attention turns to the FA Cup. Many sides may treat it as an opportunity to rest tired legs or to use players short on game time.
Manchester United are drawn at home in round three for the third season in a row. This year’s competition sees them kick-off against higher flying Championship side Derby County. Not since 2014 have United fallen at the first hurdle but with just one league win in their last four the side will need to be wary. Derby are the in-form Championship side and are unbeaten in six. Over that time they have won four, conceding just twice but scoring 11. No doubt Derby have to be respected, but with a chance to return to the top flight for the first time in nine seasons, they may also take the opportunity to rest players for a gruelling promotion push.
Two sides which can’t afford to rotate are Liverpool and Everton. The pair face each other tonight at Anfield and with a place in the fourth round, as well as local rivalry up for grabs, both sides should be competitive. Liverpool go into the tie on the back of a 13 league game unbeaten run, including four wins from five. Everton, on the other hand, have failed to win in four games but did get a 1-1 draw at Anfield in early December.
Current FA Cup holders and record 13-time winners Arsenal are drawn away at Nottingham Forest this round. For the past few years, the cup had given Arsenal fans some glory at the end of the season and they will once again look to go deep in the competition. Three draws from the last four games has hurt their league position a little and with a League Cup Semi Final coming in the next few days squad management is key. Arsenal have so far used the Carabao Cup and Europa League to field a second 11 and the Forest game may be similar. The two-time cup winners are in poor form themselves, picking up Just five points in their last six games.
Chelsea travel to Championship mid-table side Norwich City in their third round tie this weekend. Their 2-2 draw at the Emirates this week ended a four-game run of not conceding in the league. Having slipped to 3rd in the league, and 16 points behind leaders Man City, Chelsea may rely on the FA Cup as a source of cheer this season. After losing in the final last season they will undoubtedly be aiming to make up for it. Norwich’s form has picked up of late with 10 points from their last six games. They remain 13th in the league, nine points off the playoffs.
There are two more all Premier League Cup clashes as league leaders Manchester City take on Burnley at home. With such a big lead in the table City can perhaps afford to make sure they win this tie, however, they have suffered some injuries of late which could threaten to derail their excellent season so far. Burnley’s brilliant early season form started to fall away over Christmas as they reverted to type. Failure to win any of their last five league games saw them fall away from the top six. A good cup run could really cement a great season for them, but they will face a difficult task this weekend.
Brighton v Crystal Palace is the other all top-flight fixture. Both sides have picked up points of late in the league so it is difficult to see who progresses to the next round at first sight. Brighton have lost only once in their last five and that was to Chelsea. Palace too have lost just once in their last five, again to top opposition. Both sides main focus will be survival and could arguably do without the distraction of a cup run.
There are several ties which could lead to struggling Premier League opposition being eliminated to a side below. If these sides are not on full song over the weekend then the side lower down the pyramid could take full advantage. Southampton, without a win in nine travel to promotion hopefuls Fulham. The Championship side are four points outside the playoffs after four wins from their last six. Top of the table Wolves have not lost in 10 league games and sit 12 points clear at the top. The favourites to return to the Premier League face a struggling Swansea side at home in round three. Another high flying Championship side in Bristol City take on out of form Premier League outfit Watford at Vicarage Road tomorrow. The side who are fourth in the second tier have dropped points over Christmas but may up their game to cause an upset against Watford who have just one win in nine.
Finally, three games see Premier League sides take on teams outside the top two divisions starting with AFC Wimbledon’s trip to face Tottenham. The struggling League One side may find a difficult afternoon ahead against Spurs, but they could provide a big upset. Leicester City face a tricky away trip to League One side Fleetwood Town. The Foxes won for their first game in five last time out but Fleetwood haven’t won at home since the start of December.
The biggest chance of an upset comes as struggling Stoke City travel to face League Two side Coventry City. The promotion candidates sit 3rd in the league and have won four of their last five games. The 1987 FA Cup winners will fancy their chances of progressing against an out of form Stoke who have lost seven of their last 10 games.