The third round of the FA Cup is upon us, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited.
The big boys have entered the pot, giving us some tasty fixtures and several potential upsets.
Here are some games that might be worth keeping an eye out for this weekend.
Aston Villa vs Liverpool (Friday, January 8, 19:45)
Aston Villa welcome champions Liverpool to Villa Park on Friday night, in one of three all-Premier League ties.
On the surface, the visitors will seem like the favourites. However, Jurgen Klopp’s men aren’t in the greatest form right now, picking up just two points from their last three outings.
Furthermore, the Reds have lost their last two visits to Villa Park by an aggregate score of 12-2. Although, in fairness, they were playing their reserve side in one of those fixtures.
This time, it’s expected to be under-23s vs under-23s. Liverpool have bigger things to worry about and likely won’t risk injury to their first-team players, while a COVID-19 outbreak in the Villa camp has depleted their squad.
Queens Park Rangers vs Fulham (Saturday, January 9, 15:00)
The most enticing of Saturday’s 3pm fixtures comes at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, as QPR host Fulham in a West London derby.
Neither side is in inspiring form right now. QPR are winless in nine, while the Whites haven’t won since November 2.
Last season’s clashes between these two ended in similar fashion. The Rs took early leads in both games through Jordan Hugill, but ultimately lost 2-1. Mark Warburton will be hoping for an improved result this time around.
Assuming that Fulham’s COVID-19 crisis doesn’t postpone their third game in a row, this should be one to look out for.
Arsenal vs Newcastle United (Saturday, January 9, 17:30)
Two sides needing a lift meet at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, with both managers under pressure.
Despite their recent mini-revival, Mikel Arteta will still need to step things up at the Gunners if he wants to remain in charge. As for Steve Bruce, the performances haven’t been pretty, and the results aren’t backing him up. An early FA Cup exit could be a hammer blow to either of these bosses.
For Arsenal, this is their competition. They are the current holders, they’ve won four of the last seven, and no side in history can match their 14 triumphs.
Manchester United vs Watford (Saturday, January 9, 20:00)
Manchester United will be desperate to lift this cup, having not won a trophy since the Europa League in 2017. For a club of their size and history, that is quite the drought. Their Carabao Cup semi-final exit to Manchester City will only increase their hunger in the FA Cup.
Standing in their way is recently relegated Watford. Fairly straightforward, right? Well, the Hornets are among the promotion contenders this season, currently residing in a play-off spot.
In addition, the Red Devils were beaten at Vicarage Road last season, largely down to a horrendous error by David de Gea.
Chelsea vs Morecambe (Sunday, January 10, 13:30)
Chelsea’s FA Cup journey begins against League Two side Morecambe. On paper, this one should be easy to predict. However, football isn’t played on paper.
Chelsea have just one win in their last seven in all competitions, dropping from first to ninth in a month. This has cranked up the pressure on manager Frank Lampard, who could be out of the door if his team fails to progress to the fourth round.
Meanwhile, the Shrimps go into this game in high spirits, having won their last four outings.
Could an upset be on the cards?
Marine vs Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, January 10, 17:00)
Another side desperate to end their trophy drought are Tottenham, who haven’t got their hands on any silverware since 2008. But, if there’s one thing that Jose Mourinho knows all about, it’s silverware.
For their third round tie, Spurs face eighth tier Marine – the lowest-ranked side left in the tournament. If they pull off a shock victory, Marine will go down in the annals of the FA Cup, having pulled off one of the most remarkable upsets of all time.
A team in the eighth tier beating Jose Mourinho’s Spurs. It couldn’t happen, could it?