Are you tipping a huge FA Cup shock?
The FA Cup Third Round has always been one of the most special weekends in the football calendar, and although this year’s draw left us feeling a tad cold, there are still some great ties to get stuck into across four days of televised action.
Ex-footballer turned analyst Adrian Clarke gives his take on what to expect…
West Ham United v Manchester City
Underwhelming Premier League form should ensure the FA Cup pricks the interest of both managers ahead of this heavyweight 3rd round encounter. Success in this competition could save their respective seasons.
When I look at the tactical make-up of the game, Andy Carroll’s aerial threat stands out as a weapon that may hurt a Manchester City team that’s lacked conviction in that department. The big man is price-boosted to 9/1 to score first at the London Stadium.
Goals are hard to come by for Slaven Bilic’s men on home turf, though. In 14 matches at their new ground, West Ham have scored more than once on just three occasions.
Manchester United v Reading
Jaap Stam will receive a heroes’ welcome on his return to Old Trafford, but even though his Reading side are flying in the Championship I doubt he’ll be smiling at the final whistle. Jose Mourinho only has one FA Cup winner’s medal, and he will not want the holders to bow out early.
Who’ll score? I’m all over Marcus Rashford, even if he’s only a 7/6 shot to score at anytime.
Preston North End v Arsenal
This could be a tricky tie for a Gunners side that’s under pressure not to slip up after their stumble at Bournemouth.
Simon Grayson’s Preston outfit are well-drilled and dangerous from set pieces, with defenders Tom Clarke and Alex Baptiste, plus giant forward Simon Makienok all posing a serious threat in the air. They are 14/1, 14/1 and 39/20 respectively to score anytime.
Having won the FA Cup in 2014 and 2015, Arsenal should be fancied though. Arsene Wenger has promised to send a strong XI (minus Cech, Koscielny and Alexis) so I see the 23/50 for an away win in a double with both teams to score (19/25) as a gamble worth looking at.
Cardiff City v Fulham
If you want to follow this all-Championship affair set your alarm clocks early for Sunday. It’s an 11.30am kick off!
With a low crowd expected, I wonder if the Welshmen will feel a little flat, and this could play into the hands of a fast-improving Fulham side that’s won five and lost just two of 11 away matches in the league this term.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side are good travellers, so the 6/4 on a Fulham win feels attractive.
They’ll miss in-form Floyd Ayite who has gone off to the African Cup of Nations with Togo, but in Sone Aluko they boast a player that featured in the 2014 FA Cup Final. The forward is 21/4 to score the first goal.
Liverpool v Plymouth
Plymouth are enjoying a wonderful League 2 campaign, but the gulf between the fourth tier and a club of Liverpool’s stature feels gargantuan these days. Even if Jurgen Klopp rests some of his star names, the Reds should dominate this tie from start to finish.
With ‘Over 2.5 goals’ a little on the skinny side at 8/11, you may get more bang for your buck by predicting the final score instead. In front of an expectant Anfield crowd I reckon a 3-0 (6/1) or 4-0 (17/2) are highly possible outcomes.
If you see this one as a shock in waiting, I admire your optimism. For Plymouth to beat Liverpool you can get a price of 16/1.
Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
Steve Bruce knows what it takes to make it all the way to Wembley, but he’ll be happy enough avoiding a morale-sapping defeat at White Hart Lane.
Under his leadership the Midlanders have actually tightened up at the back, conceding more than once in just two of their last 15 matches. If you believe Spurs will be limited to just one goal or less, a price of 39/20 is available with Grosvenor.
It’s hard to look past a Tottenham win though. They are in superb form and will be determined to maintain their momentum.
There’s a suspicion on-fire Dele Alli will be given a rest on Sunday, but if you fancy him to continue his hot streak, the 20-year-old is 31/20 to notch another in the 90 minutes.
Cambridge United v Leeds United
This is a potential banana skin for Leeds United. After getting off to a shaky start, one of Leeds’ former players Shaun Derry is now doing a fabulous job in charge at the League 2 outfit, who put four past Dover Athletic and Coventry City in the previous rounds. This will be a big night in front of the TV cameras, and they will make life uncomfortable for the 1972 winners.
With promotion from the Championship Garry Monk’s sole target this season, expect him to ring the changes, and that could pave the way for an upset.
Last but not least it’s always good fun to have a crack at an FA Cup acca. For these seven televised ties I’m tipping Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool, Tottenham and Cambridge.
If that tickles your fancy it’s a 32/1 shout on Grosvenor Sport…!