FA Cup 3rd Round: 6 of the Biggest Ties to Watch
Along with the Champions League, the English FA Cup is one of the most renowned competitions in the world of football. For many years, the laws of probability have fixed up David against Goliath, and nine out of 10 times, Goliath will prevail.
But in that one instance where David pulls through, the magic of the FA Cup gives the underdog that extra notch up the energy meter, which therefore could be responsible for a last-minute winner or goal that takes it to a replay at your home ground which only holds 500 people.
The FA Cup Third Round is the most important of the whole competition, pitting the non-leaguers and lower-division sides against all of the Premier League clubs for the first time. The likes of minnows Havant & Waterlooville for example took a 2-1 lead against Liverpool at Anfield before succumbing to a 5-2 defeat. They may have lost that day, but their efforts will be remembered in FA Cup history forever.
And so, we take a look at some clashes which could reproduce the spirit that the FA Cup brings about year after year. Spoiler alert: this list could contain a non-league side.
Middlesbrough V Hastings
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Non-league outfit Hastings secured a dramatic 5-4 penalty shootout win over Harrogate Town in the Second Round to set up a lucrative clash at the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough.
The lowest-ranked team in the competition Hastings had drawn the first game with Harrogate 1-1, and the replay was exactly the same score, with a last-gasp goal from Tom Platt taking the game to extra time and then penalties before Dee Okojie's winning penalty set up the clash with the Championship side.
Tony Mowbray's side are in good form and are currently fourth in the Championship standings; and with the tie set to be played at home, the Teeside-based outfit should easily see off Hastings with no real problems. However, the nature of the FA Cup means that the Ismithian Premier League side could cause an upset.
If Hastings were to progress, it would surely be one of the greatest upsets of all time in the FA Cup by a non-league side. It should be a cracker of a match.
Swansea V Arsenal
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Swansea have already beaten Arsenal this season—2-0 at the Emirates Stadium with Michu scoring both goals—and with the Swans in decent form, you would be a fool to rule them out with the home advantage.
Their star striker Michu has hit 13 goals in 19 league games so far this season, the joint-top scorer along with Robin Van Persie, since his £2 million move from Rayo Vallecano this summer. And the 26-year-old could once again be the difference in this clash after tormenting the Gunners with his late double.
But Arsenal looks revitalised with Theo Walcott as their new centre forward, with the 23-year-old scoring a superb hat-trick in the 7-3 crushing victory over Newcastle.
With Arsenal scoring and conceding goals, and Swansea's home form inconsistent, there could be plenty of goals in the clash at the Liberty Stadium as we await one of the four all Premier League FA Cup ties.
Southampton V Chelsea
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The Community Shield, European Super Cup, Champions League and the Club World Cup. Already, four of the seven trophies that the Blues could have won before the season started have passed them by, and interim manager Rafa Benitez will be keen to add another trophy to strengthen his chances of a permanent position.
They're in the semi-finals of the League Cup, but Benitez knows that the FA Cup is more important to Chelsea, who have won the competition four times in the last six years, and as a consequence looks set to put out a strong side against struggling Southampton.
Nigel Adkins' side, though, will be looking to brighten up its season and the 1-1 draw against Arsenal at St. Mary's Stadium on New Year's Day was a sign that things could be improving at the south coast outfit.
Star signing Gaston Ramirez has hit top gear finally after his £12 million switch from Bologna and he could be the key to unlocking the Chelsea defence. The European champions are in great form though, and the only surprise to most fans will be if Chelsea fail to score.
Crawley Town V Reading
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Reading are struggling in the Premier League at present, with their manager Brian McDermott under serious pressure after their 3-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hostpur.
Crawley, on the other hand, are lying in eighth position in League One, with a promotion spot just one point in front of them. The Royals will be desperate to instill some confidence into their luckless season to date.
The main concern for them is their defensive record, which stands at 40 goals conceded in 21 games this season, a record only beaten by Aston Villa, who have let in 41.This will encourage Crawley, who have scored 22 goals in their 13 league games this season.
With the visitors struggling to find any joy in front of goal this season, this could be a game that goes all the way to the wire, with a replay likely at the Madejski Stadium.
Mansfield V Liverpool
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Its cup run has seen them fall behind in terms of games in the Conference Premier, but Mansfield won't mind if they beat Liverpool in front of their fans at Field Mill.
They've played just 22 games in the league while most of their rivals have played 26, but after beating Lincoln to reach the Third Round, a massive game against a resurgent Liverpool side under Brendan Rodgers is next for The Stags.
Obviously the main threat posed to Mansfield by Liverpool is Uruguayan star Luis Suarez, who has hit 13 goals for the Reds in the Premier League this season. But the quality in depth at the Merseyside club could see them get past Mansfield.
As mentioned before, Mansfield will be buoyed by the challenge Havant & Waterlooville posed back in 2007, and with the home advantage, they will be hoping to emulate their heroics.
Manchester City V Watford
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After a slow start to his reign at Vicarage Road, Gianfranco Zola and his loan heroes have earned themselves a mouthwatering clash at the Etihad Stadium and for me, this will be the tie of the round.
Watford, under the new ownership of the Pozzo family, who also own La Liga outfit Granada and Italian club Udinese, have signed no less than 14 players on loan for their promotion push.
Despite the fear that it could take time for them to gel, the loanees have been an instant success. One player who has truly excelled is Matej Vydra, the Czech striker on loan from Udinese, with 12 goals in 20 Championship games for the 20-year-old starlet.
However, Roberto Mancini is unlikely to let the chance for silverware slip with the Champions League now out of reach, and a strong side containing the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva could be too strong for Watford. Nevertheless, expect goals and a spirited effort from The Hornets. You never know just what might happen, especially at the Etihad Stadium.