8 Things We Learned from FA Cup Third Round
After a typically hectic FA Cup third round, teams across England and Wales have been left dreaming of Wembley and licking their wounds in equal measure.
Surprises came in the shape of Swansea City’s 2-1 win at Manchester United, League Two Rochdale’s victory over Leeds and Nottingham Forest’s thrashing of West Ham.
And while the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton progressed with the minimum of fuss, the competition still threw up its fair share of talking points.
So with one of the most hotly anticipated weekends on the football calendar done and dusted, we look at eight things that were learned from the New Year action.
Manchester United’s Transfer Needs Are as Clear as Day
Not that it needed overemphasising after a difficult first half of the season, but Manchester United’s lack of quality in certain areas was there for all to see on Sunday.
Swansea City were a constant threat to the Red Devils’ back four at Old Trafford, and they got their reward when Wilfried Bony’s last-minute header sealed their passage to round four.
David Moyes’ well-documented need for improvements in central midfield was glaringly obvious once more, with the Welshmen weaving their way through their hosts time and again.
The issues are not lost on Moyes, who used his post-match press conference to confirm as much.
As reported by Bryan Swanson at Sky Sports, the former Everton boss is targeting a new left-back as well as midfield reinforcements, though availability remains an issue for the reigning Premier League champions.
Solskjaer Is Still Winning Games from the Bench
As a player at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a habit of making a striking impact from the substitutes bench.
The Norwegian scored some 28 times after emerging from the sidelines, including a famous stoppage-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
Now as manager of Cardiff City, the 40-year-old appears to have lost none of his nous for influencing results from the dugout.
Trailing 1-0 to a Papiss Cisse goal against Newcastle United, the new Bluebirds boss masterminded a complete turnaround at St. James’ Park, with substitutes Craig Noone and Frazier Campbell netting the all-important goals.
Things Can Only Get Better for West Ham United
The last thing struggling West Ham United needed was another resource-sapping cup run, but even the most pragmatic Hammers fan would have struggled to find any positives this weekend.
Forced into fielding a youthful side at Nottingham Forest, Sam Allardyce watched his team suffer a demoralising 5-0 defeat at the hands of a Championship club on Sunday.
And all this ahead of a Capital One Cup semifinal against the might of Manchester City and a huge bottom-four league clash with Cardiff in the next five days.
But with striker Andy Carroll nearing a welcome return from injury and the club ready to do business in the January transfer market, many of the Irons’ faithful will be hoping this is as bad as it gets this term.
Arsenal Look Like They Mean Business
Paired with Tottenham Hotspur for an unscheduled North London derby, Arsenal approached the third-round clash with verve and invention and were rightly rewarded.
Often accused of demeaning such competitions with weakened starting XIs, Arsene Wenger sent his players out to do one thing and thing only on Saturday—win.
Bouyed by the spirited Theo Walcott in attack, the Gunners took the game to their nearest rivals from the first whistle and rarely looked threatened at the back.
And with a home tie against Coventry City in the next round, don’t be surprised to see Wenger place just as much emphasis on winning the FA Cup as he does on the Premier League title, just in case the latter doesn’t come off.
Cup Distraction Is Welcome at Sunderland
Despite their woes at the foot of the Premier League table, the domestic competitions have brought relief to Gus Poyet’s Sunderland, and they look a decent bet to go further in the FA Cup.
After beating a lively Carlisle United side 3-1 at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, the Black Cats have been handed a home clash with Kidderminster Harriers or Peterborough in the next round.
With a two-legged Capital One Cup semifinal to look forward to against an out-of-sorts Manchester United, there are a few on Wearside who think this might be the ideal time to end their 41-year wait for a trophy.
And with such adversity facing them in the league, could their luck transfer itself to the FA Cup as it did for Wigan Athletic last season?
Premier League Teams Did Their Utmost to Avoid Replays
Of the 20 Premier League teams that entered the third round of the FA Cup this weekend, only three emerged needing a replay.
Manchester City will go again after something of a scare against Blackburn Rovers, while Norwich City and Fulham face each other once more after a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road.
Every other side in the top flight either progressed to round four or exited, with just six teams—Manchester United, Aston Villa, West Ham, Tottenham, West Brom and Newcastle—falling at the first hurdle.
The nuisance of replays is a topic of constant debate when it comes to the FA Cup, but it seems most were hellbent on avoiding such an unwanted eventuality this year.
Romance Is Alive and Well…in Rochdale
In a third round devoid of any earth-shattering shocks, the very essence of the competition could be found in a not-so-quiet corner of the Northwest.
League Two side Rochdale were expected to struggle against Championship playoff hopefuls Leeds United, and with 45 places separating the two before the start of play, it was easy to see why.
But the underdogs ignored such obvious conjecture and deservedly took the lead when Scott Hogan put the home side ahead just before halftime.
And delirium set in at Spotland with just six minutes remaining when Ian Henderson volleyed home to send Rochdale into the fourth round for the first time in 11 years.
Mourinho Knows the Value of the FA Cup
Much like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Jose Mourinho knows the value of winning a trophy this season, and he took no chances with his team selection for the trip to Derby County on Sunday.
With the home side resurgent since the appointment of former England boss Steve McClaren, Chelsea knew they wouldn’t have things all their own way at Pride Park.
But despite a gritty performance from the Rams, Mourinho’s lineup contained enough nous and know-how to overcome their hosts with typical professionalism.
Expectations are high at Stamford Bridge this season, and with the Premier League title race as close as it is, Mourinho will expect his team to stay in the FA Cup until the latter stages.
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