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

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FA Cup 2016: 3rd-Round Schedule, Score Predictions and Key Players
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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
Date Home vs. Away Prediction
Friday, Jan. 8 Exeter City vs. Liverpool 1-2
Saturday, Jan. 9 Watford vs. Newcastle United 2-1
West Bromwich Albion vs. Bristol City 3-1
West Ham United vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1
Hartlepool United vs. Derby County 1-2
Colchester United vs. Charlton Athletic 2-3
Peterborough United vs. Preston North End 2-2
Northampton Town vs. MK Dons 1-3
Arsenal vs. Sunderland 4-1
Newport County vs. Blackburn Rovers 0-3
Ipswich Town vs. Portsmouth 3-1
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth 1-1
Wycombe Wanderers vs. Aston Villa 2-1
Sheffield Wednesday vs. Fulham 1-1
Brentford vs. Walsall 2-2
Bury vs. Bradford City 1-2
Manchester United vs. Sheffield United 2-2
Everton vs. Dagenham & Redbridge 3-1
Southampton vs. Crystal Palace 0-0
Eastleigh vs. Bolton Wanderers 0-2
Nottingham Forest vs. Queens Park Rangers 3-3
Doncaster Rovers vs. Stoke City 1-2
Leeds United vs. Rotherham United 1-2
Huddersfield Town vs. Reading 0-0
Middlesbrough vs. Burnley 2-0
Norwich City vs. Manchester City 1-2
Hull City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1
Sunday, Jan. 10 Oxford United vs. Swansea City 3-1
Carlisle United vs. Yeovil Town 1-1
Chelsea vs. Scunthorpe United 1-1
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Leicester City 3-1
Cardiff City vs. Shrewsbury 2-0

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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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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