6 Key FA Cup Battles to Watch This Weekend
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After a busy 10-12 days of Premier League action, there's a break from league business this weekend as the 3rd round of the FA Cup fixtures take centre stage.
Cup competitions are one of the best things about football.
If there's one thing you can be sure of this weekend, it's that there'll be cup shocks along the way, so let's take a look at the six matches I'll have my eyes on.
Saturday: Brighton vs. Newcastle
Alan Pardew is under pressure at Newcastle
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I suppose you could consider this tie a potential banana skin, as Championship side Brighton host Premier League strugglers Newcastle.
Brighton are a great footballing side, and Gus Poyet likes his players to keep the ball on the deck and pass it around as much as possible.
They're three points off the playoffs at the moment, and Poyet's side will fancy their chances against a struggling Newcastle side.
The likes of Wayne Bridge and Tomasz Kuszczak have Premier League experience, and they'll have a key role to play at the weekend.
Going forward, Vicente, Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith will want to use the opportunity to impress and judging by Newcastle's current form, they might well do that.
Alan Pardew is under pressure at Newcastle right now.
They've lost nine of their last 11 games in the league and with the transfer of Demba Ba to Chelsea all but completed, their confidence might just be shattered.
Pardew will be wary of this tie on Saturday and he'll be elated if Newcastle scrape through here.
I just think Newcastle's poor run will continue and Brighton will cause the first upset of the weekend.
Prediction: Brighton win
Saturday: Aston Villa vs Ipswich
Paul Lambert will be hoping to avoid a cup upset on Saturday
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The next potential upset I can see is at Villa Park where freefalling Aston Villa take on Championship side Ipswich.
Paul Lambert's side might have stopped the rot against Swansea last time out, but they've lost 17 goals in just four league games.
That's concerning at any level.
Yes, I know he's got a young side, but that's no excuse for the shambolic defending we've seen from Villa over the Christmas period.
Unless Lambert brings in some experience during the transfer window, I fear Villa might be doomed to relegation.
Saturday's tie against Ipswich might look easy on paper, but it won't be that way once the whistle blows at 3pm GMT.
Ipswich have been on a decent little run of form of late, and Mick McCarthy will want to prove a point against the near-neighbours of one of his old sides.
They seem to have stabilised a lot since Mick came in and they've lost just one of their last four.
McCarthy might not have DJ Campbell at his disposal any more, but the likes of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Nigel Reo-Coker, Richie Wellens and Michael Chopra are all very decent players capable of causing Villa problems.
I think there'll be goals in this game, with Ipswich just coming out on top.
Prediction: Ipswich win
Saturday: Bolton vs Sunderland
Bolton's Kevin Davies will cause problems for Sunderland
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For all intents and purposes, this match is a clash between two Premier League clubs.
It might seem strange to say that, considering they play in different leagues, but Bolton are a Premier League club in all but name.
The stadium, the infrastructure, the squad, everything about them screams Premier League.
Kevin Davies is just one of the handful of Premier League quality players that Bolton have at their disposal and I've no doubt that he'll bully the Sunderland defenders on Saturday.
He'll make life very difficult for the Sunderland defence.
On Saturday, Bolton have the chance to test themselves against a Sunderland side who will be hoping for a better year in 2013.
They've struggled to win and score goals over the last 12 months, but I'm sure Martin O'Neill and his players will want to rectify that as soon as possible.
The problem is that I don't see Sunderland scoring when Steven Fletcher isn't on the pitch.
He'll be well marshalled by Bolton on Saturday so the Black Cats might have to come up with another plan.
I just think Bolton are likelier to score more goals than Sunderland on Saturday.
They've got options all over the pitch, so I'm going for a home win.
Prediction: Bolton win
Saturday: Manchester City vs Watford
Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini had a bust-up earlier today - Image courtesy of web.orange.co.uk
Another match I'll be watching with interest on Saturday is Manchester City's clash with Watford.
It seems like another day, another Mario Balotelli story.
This time, he's reportedly had a bust-up with Roberto Mancini on the training ground, and the pair had to be separated by members of the coaching team.
I think Balotelli is a good player, but there has to come a time where his behaviour has to stop.
It's either that, or City cut their losses with the enigmatic Italian.
He's causing more problems than he's worth, and it's not as if he's delivering on a regular basis for City.
Especially not this season.
It's a shame that this story has broken today, because City have seemed to be hitting their stride recently.
They're playing better and I'm sure this is the last thing they needed heading in to what will be a tough test against Watford on Saturday.
Gianfranco Zola's side have been impressive so far this season.
They're sitting in the play-off positions right now and, from what I've seen on TV, Watford play some great football.
If football was played on paper, then Watford would have no chance.
But football isn't played on paper and the disruption caused by Mario Balotelli this week might unsettle City.
I still think they'll come through, but it won't be easy.
Prediction: Manchester City win
Saturday: West Ham United vs Manchester United
West Ham's Mark Noble in action against Manchester City
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Saturday's late game sees West Ham United take on Manchester United at Upton Park.
Mark Noble is someone who has really impressed me over the last few weeks.
The local boy done good has been outstanding lately and he shone again in their match against Norwich.
He'll have a huge influence on the game on Saturday and if Manchester United underestimate his qualities, they could be on the wrong end of the result on Saturday.
Joe Cole is also rumoured to be making his return to West Ham, so that'll give the Hammers a timely boost ahead of the rest of the season.
The visitors on Saturday have strengthened their lead at the top of the table, with Robin van Persie in imperious form.
The Dutchman looks as if he can't do anything wrong at the moment.
His performances since the summer of 2011 at Arsenal, right through to the present day at Manchester United, have been nothing short of exceptional.
Not bad for someone who "could have been killed" in Swansea the other week is it?
All joking aside, Van Persie is phenomenal to watch at times and he's already proving to be the difference between United and City in the title race.
On Saturday, he should have a tough test because Sam Allardyce's teams are usually well drilled and disciplined.
This might just be the match of the weekend and I think it'll take a replay to split these teams.
Prediction: Score Draw
Sunday: Swansea vs Arsenal
Theo Walcott has been in excellent form lately
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The final match I'll be watching at the weekend is Sunday's lunchtime fixture between Swansea and Arsenal.
Michael Laudrup's side might just be the dark horses to win this competition.
They play great football, they're capable of scoring goals from all over the pitch, but most importantly, they're more than capable of beating any team on their day.
Swansea proved that a few weeks ago when they beat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates, with Michu scoring twice.
The Spaniard has been quiet over the last couple of games, but I'm expecting him to have a crucial role in the outcome of this match.
Arsenal head in to this game in confident mood after a decent set of results over the festive period.
They've scored a shedload of goals and Theo Walcott in particular has been deadly.
The cynic in me thinks that it's perfectly timed to give him more leverage in his protracted contract negotiations, but that's just my opinion.
Anyway, Walcott will more than likely play a part on Sunday and Swansea will need to watch him carefully.
Especially given the rich vein of goalscoring form he's in.
I expect this match to be another tight affair, but I think Swansea will come out on top, leaving Arsenal with just the Champions League as their only chance at a trophy.
Prediction: Swansea win