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FA Cup 2016: 3rd-Round Schedule, Score Predictions and Key Players

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02:  Wayne Rooney (R) of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mate Anthony Martial (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2016

The romance of the FA Cup returns on Friday as the third round of the competition kicks off, with the Premier League sides entering the tournament. 

The English cup is known for its history of giant killings, and a number are on the cards as top sides are drawn against lesser opposition. 

Liverpool travel to Exeter City on Friday night, blighted by a disastrous injury record, with 11 senior players missing, according to BBC Sport.

Chelsea and Manchester United could have tough tasks as they are matched against capable teams from the lower divisions, facing off against Scunthorpe United and Sheffield United, respectively. 

Holders Arsenal will have to overcome top-flight opposition as Sunderland travel to the Emirates Stadium, and Manchester City journey to Norwich City. 

Here are the full set of fixtures for the third round, including scoreline predictions and players to watch: 

FA Cup 2016: Third-Round Schedule and Score Predictions
DateHomevs.AwayPrediction
Friday, Jan. 8Exeter Cityvs.Liverpool1-2
Saturday, Jan. 9Watfordvs.Newcastle United2-1
West Bromwich Albionvs.Bristol City3-1
West Ham Unitedvs.Wolverhampton Wanderers1-1
Hartlepool Unitedvs.Derby County1-2
Colchester Unitedvs.Charlton Athletic2-3
Peterborough Unitedvs.Preston North End2-2
Northampton Townvs.MK Dons1-3
Arsenalvs.Sunderland4-1
Newport Countyvs.Blackburn Rovers0-3
Ipswich Townvs.Portsmouth3-1
Birmingham Cityvs.Bournemouth1-1
Wycombe Wanderersvs.Aston Villa2-1
Sheffield Wednesdayvs.Fulham1-1
Brentfordvs.Walsall2-2
Buryvs.Bradford City1-2
Manchester Unitedvs.Sheffield United2-2
Evertonvs.Dagenham & Redbridge3-1
Southamptonvs.Crystal Palace0-0
Eastleighvs.Bolton Wanderers0-2
Nottingham Forestvs.Queens Park Rangers3-3
Doncaster Roversvs.Stoke City1-2
Leeds Unitedvs.Rotherham United1-2
Huddersfield Townvs.Reading0-0
Middlesbroughvs.Burnley2-0
Norwich Cityvs.Manchester City1-2
Hull Cityvs.Brighton & Hove Albion2-1
Sunday, Jan. 10Oxford Unitedvs.Swansea City3-1
Carlisle Unitedvs.Yeovil Town1-1
Chelseavs.Scunthorpe United1-1
Tottenham Hotspurvs.Leicester City3-1
Cardiff Cityvs.Shrewsbury2-0
BBC Sport

 

Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney

In years gone by, United would certainly have fielded a weaker team for the third round, but with the FA Cup representing the team's best chance of silverware this year, it would be inconceivable for manager Louis van Gaal to risk elimination.  

The Red Devils have lost only once in 36 FA Cup ties against teams from the lower echelons of English football, defeated by Leeds United in the opening hurdle of the 2009-10 season, per BBC Sport.

Sheffield United were drawn for three consecutive seasons against the Old Trafford giants between 1993 and 1995, eliminating the Manchester club in the first of the trilogy. 

Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (L) listens to Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney (R) during the warm up before the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford in Manchester,
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

United have suffered a dark period in recent times, slipping from the leadership of the Premier League to outside of the top-four after eight games without a win in all competitions. 

However, a 2-1 victory against Swansea City saw LvG's team look more like themselves, as Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial grabbed brilliant goals to relight their partnership. 

It has been a difficult season for the England captain as he struggles to play the role of striker or No. 10. The manager used him as a midfielder at times last term, but Rooney has failed in his attacking duties since pre-season. 

Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney (R) scores his team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on January 2, 2016. AFP PHOTO
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Van Gaal has supported Rooney during his alarming dip in form this year, and the Dutchman said he hopes the goal against the Swans will now fire the player to better days, as quoted by Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News:

He does everything we expect from him as a captain but also as a player and in what position he plays.

I hope that it can give a boost to him, because the goal was fantastic. There was not so much space and still he ran to the first post and did it this way, so it was fantastic and I am very happy for him and I hope it shall give him the boost he needs.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Louis van Gaal, manager of Manchester United shakes hands with Wayne Rooney of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Manchester United at Britannia Stadium on December 26,
Dave Thompson/Getty Images

The 30-year-old only has three goals from 16 Premier League appearances this term, according to WhoScored.com, and his lack of contribution has been a major factor in United's downfall since November.

However, there were much better signs against Swansea at Old Trafford, as Rooney patrolled the penalty area with more vigour and movement. 

Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports (h/t Tom Sheen of the Independent) he is unsure whether the player will ever recapture his best form due to the years of punishment his body has been through, starting his top-flight career with Everton as a 16-year-old:

We have said before he was playing at 16, so in reality terms he's maybe like a 33 or 34-year-old player.

People talk about age, it's miles on the clock and it's games played. He must have played nearly 600 games as a centre forward, which is maybe not the same as playing in the position I did.

I just think that battering from centre-backs and the pressure that is on him, mentally as well, to play from that age of 16, I think we are looking at a player who is getting to the stage of his career where I don't think he will be playing at the top level at 34-35.

I just think he's been playing so long now that maybe it's 30 on his birth certificate but in terms of games played he's a 35-year-old player.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Anthony Martial of Manchester United celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-0 during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 2, 2016 in Manchester, Eng
James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

If Rooney's age is a concern, the effervescence and youth of Martial has breathed life into the United machinery. The Frenchman had an immediate impact on his debut against Liverpool in the league, scoring from the bench, but he has been moved to a wider position in recent weeks.

Martial has failed to regularly find the net since the switch in position, but LvG allowed the player to come inside more often against Swansea, and the change instantly bore fruit. 

The challenge of Sheffield United would've been swiped aside by Red Devils fans in the past, but there is a real and present danger to the hosts' participation in the competition.

However, Rooney and Martial have shown an improved understanding in the last game, and Van Gaal will be leaning on the strike pair to pull his team through. 

United supporters are desperate for a goal fest at the Theatre of Dreams after an underwhelming season, and the cup could offer the team solitude for the rest of the campaign. 

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