The magic of the FA Cup is back. The third round draw for the Football Association Challenge Cup, better known as The FA Cup (and now known as The Emirates FA Cup) was made Monday, providing us with some very intriguing match-ups.
The FA Cup, which happens to be the oldest trophy in sports, is a single-elimination knockout style competition open to all clubs registered with the English FA, from the top Premier League clubs all the way down to Sunday pub teams. In today’s day and age, roughly 750 teams will enter the tournament (the record is 763 in 2011-12).
The bottom teams go through numerous qualification rounds beginning in June which helps narrow down the field. The third round, typically played on the first weekend of January, is when the teams from the Premier League and Championship enter the field, creating a field of 64 teams.
If you’re sitting there saying “gee that sounds an awful lot like March Madness,” you’re correct, which is why the weekend of the FA Cup’s third round is my second-favorite weekend of the year, just behind the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
There’s always the debate over what kind of matches you’d like to see in the third round. Would you rather see two giants get drawn together — like Manchester United vs. Liverpool in 2011 or Manchester United vs. Manchester City in 2012 — clearing a path for smaller teams to progress further in the tournament. Or would you rather see the small clubs get pitted against the big boys and try for a giant killing where they knock off one of the top teams.
We now know, for the most part, what the third round will look like. Some of the second round ties still need to be completed but we know who the winner of those ties will face in the third round.
Here are some of the more intriguing match ups. (Games will be played the weekend of January 9):
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Leicester City
If you miss out on getting lower level opposition, you always hope to at least get drawn against a relegation contender who may be resting their best players to try to help them out in the league. Unfortunately for Tottenham, this is not the year to draw Leicester as they currently sit at the top of all of English football and surely will still be in the top four when this game is played.
Lucky for fans, this is the closest thing we’ll get to two of the top teams squaring off in the third round. This tie also has the added caveat that the teams will meet right back at White Hart Lane in a midweek Premier League match on January 13. Should be a very interesting set of games.
Chelsea vs. Scunthorpe or Leyton Orient
We’ve already seen Crystal Palace, Southampton, Liverpool and newly promoted Bournemouth win at Stamford Bridge this season. Could we now add a potential League One (Scunthorpe) or even a League Two (Leyton Orient) side to that list as well? That would certainly be something.
Chelsea will certainly be up for this game, though. Since the start of the first Jose Mourinho era at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have been sneaky dominant in the FA Cup (winning four of the clubs seven cups since 2007). Furthermore, at this point the FA Cup represents Chelsea’s most realistic shot at a trophy this season. Add in the fact that they are eager to forget about last season embarrassing home loss to Bradford City, and it’s hard to see Chelsea taking this one lightly.
Salford City or Derby County vs. Hartpool United
Salford City are in the 7th division of English football. They’re owned by several members of Manchester United’s famed “Class of 92” including the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. It would certainly be an incredible story if they could keep winning and eventually draw Manchester United.
Southampton vs. Crystal Palace
Two clubs fighting for a Europa League place looks like a great game on paper but in reality it likely won’t be. The clubs will have just come out of the festive period, which will certainly test the depth of their squad. Therefore you’re likely to see both teams heavily rotate their squads in this one.
Everton vs. Dagenham & Redbridge or Whitehawk
This might be the greatest draw I’ve ever seen on paper and it’s exactly what makes the FA Cup and English football great. If I ever saw a league that a team with a name like these I’d never take them seriously, but one of those teams will be playing at Goodison Park in January. Incredible.
Here is the complete list of matches.
Watford vs Newcastle United
West Bromwich Albion vs Bristol City
West Ham United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Salford City/Hartlepool United vs Derby County
Exeter City vs Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur vs Leicester City
Colchester United vs Charlton Athletic
Peterborough United vs Preston North End
Northampton Town vs MK Dons
Arsenal vs Sunderland
Newport County vs Blackburn Rovers
Ipswich Town vs Portsmouth
Birmingham City vs AFC Bournemouth
Wycombe Wanderers vs Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fulham
Oxford United vs Swansea City
Brentford vs Chesterfield/Walsall
Bury vs Bradford City
Manchester United vs Sheffield United
Everton vs Dag & Red/Whitehawk
Southampton vs Crystal Palace
Eastleigh vs Bolton Wanderers
Nottingham Forest vs Queens Park Rangers
Carlisle United vs Yeovil Town
Chelsea vs Leyton Orient/Scunthorpe United
Doncaster Rovers vs Stoke City
Leeds United vs Rotherham United
Cardiff City vs Grimsby/Shrewsbury
Huddersfield vs Reading
Middlesbrough vs Burnley
Norwich City vs Manchester City
Hull City vs Brighton