Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough celebrates third-round win over Aston Villa.
It warms the heart of any FA Cup enthusiast to see one of the "big boys" being beaten by a lower-league club.
And said heart becomes even more ignited when one lower-league club, against all odds, defeats one Premier League side and is pitted against another, offering the perfect fairy-tale run to any cup competition.
However, that's the situation at Bramall Lane on 26 Jan. as Sheffield United take on Fulham for a place in the FA Cup fourth round.
Under the stewardship of Nigel Clough, the Blades' form has significantly improved from a side that looked destined for a relegation scrap. They are not only looking up the League One table, but they are doing so on the back of an away victory against Aston Villa in the last round of this competition:
Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen knows too well that an upset could be on the cards and has warned his stars against complacency.
He told Sky Sports:
I warned the players they can't be complacent. I said that to them straight away (after the fourth-round draw).
This will be a very difficult game. Sheffield United will try to chase everything and the crowd will get behind them.
Meulensteen also set out his game plan against the South Yorkshire side, stating that remaining cool, calm and collected will help the Lilywhites' chance of progression.
The key for us is to make sure we remain calm and focused and play away from that sort of pressure they throw at you.
If you can maintain that, then the quality should see you through. But if you don't match their fighting spirit and enthusiasm you could be in for a tough, tough ride.
United have won two of their last six games, with a 3-1 victory against Tranmere Rovers in their last home match, while Fulham's form on the road has been less than fruitful—a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal and a 6-0 thumping by Hull City will be firmly on their minds.
And while the dreams of a trip to Wembley will be firmly on Fulham fans' minds, the thought of a relegation scrap against Swansea on 28 Jan. could mean a number of fringe players are fielded.
But that's not uncommon in the FA Cup these days—many sides in trouble or looking at promotion are well-versed in resting their players with focus firmly on other competitions, a harrowing sight for any FA Cup purists.
However, where larger clubs falter is where giant killings occur, and that certainly could happen in this one—both sides languishing at the wrong end of their respective leagues, but one with ambitions of not just toppling their second Premier League side in two rounds, but realising dreams of their own jaunt up Wembley Way.
Prediction: Sheffield United 3-1 Fulham.
But that's not all for cup fever, as Chelsea travel to Stoke City as Jose Mourinho looks to win his second FA Cup after last picking up the trophy in 2007.
And it hasn't been too long since the Potters were last at Wembley, as they finished as runners-up to Manchester City in 2011—a goal from Mario Balotelli the difference on the day.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes is no stranger to lifting the FA Cup, winning the competition four times while playing for Manchester United and the Stamford Bridge outfit, per BBC Sport.
And despite being the underdogs, he remains a "cup romantic" ahead of the match.
He told the Stoke Sentinel: “When I was a kid and people asked what are you going to be when you grow up, I would say a professional footballer. And then the answer to the next question would be to play in an FA Cup Final.”
Hughes also highlighted the club's win against Chelsea already this season, a 3-2 victory at the Britannia Stadium on 7 Dec., and hopes that this will play on Blues' minds before kick-off.
Yes, we take confidence from the fact we have already beaten them, albeit that wasn't at Stamford Bridge and historically Stamford Bridge under Mourinho is a difficult place to get a result.
Hopefully, it will prey on their mind somewhat, and there certainly won't be any apprehension about what we have got to try and do.
The form table reads very differently for these two sides, though, as Chelsea remain unbeaten in their last six, while Stoke have won just one in their last half-dozen as they progress to this round, following a 2-1 win over Leicester City.
Despite Mohamed Salah's transfer looking set to not be completed in time for this match, Chelsea will also be without Juan Mata due to his impending transfer to Manchester United, as well as Fernando Torres. In addition, there are predictions that Samuel Eto'o may be rested, per Sky Sports.
Fortune often favours the brave, but with Chelsea's firepower breezing through Manchester United during their 3-1 win, expectations remain that the London side will have too much for Hughes' City side, and Chelsea will continue on their march to regaining the FA Cup.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City.
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