The chairman of Stourbridge, the lowest-ranked club playing in the third round of the FA Cup, is upset that his club’s tie with Wycombe is not live on television. However, the reality is that many more people want to watch Manchester United host Reading and Plymouth play at Liverpool than a fixture between a team from the Northern Premier League and opponents from League Two.
The home ties for United and Liverpool are one of seven third round matches live on television and have the potential to create the biggest shock waves around the football world. As much as Stourbridge have achieved to reach this stage the viewers in Asia have very little interest in them trying to reach the fourth round. A far bigger story would be if one of the superpowers of the English game lost at home in the Cup to a team from a lower league.
The first stage at which clubs from the Premier League and Championship are involved comes on the back of a busty holiday programme. However, the scheduling was uneven with some teams playing three times in six days and others appearing in the same number of matches but over a spell of 10 days. Team selection is vital in identifying the potential upsets and that could be a late call in some cases.
Jose Mourinho takes every competition seriously and respects the FA Cup. He appreciates the value of winning a trophy and the confidence that results. His main target is to qualify for the Champions League with Manchester United and that can be done by winning the Europa League or finishing in the top four in the Premier League. It’s safe to assume the reserves won’t play against Reading and United can beat their opponents from the Championship by more than one goal.
Jurgen Klopp is new to the madness that is the fixture pile-up at this time of the year and he could take a different approach. With Tottenham beating Chelsea Liverpool are just five points off the pace at the top of the Premier League. Klopp would probably swap 10 FA Cups for one league title with Liverpool so his team selection for the meeting with Plymouth will be interesting. We are basically betting on a second string team but Liverpool look the lay of the round at the odds on offer.
The live action for the weekend begins with West Ham playing at home against Manchester City on Friday evening. Pep Guardiola has been sniffy about the number of matches at this time of the year. He’s not used to working over Christmas and has been disdainful about the workload. If that transmits to his players City could be vulnerable at the London Olympic Stadium bit can return north with a draw.
Tottenham are now just seven points behind Chelsea in the league. They have a tradition of doing well in the FA Cup but the players need a break but the traditions of the club should prevail. Tottenham looked stronger and fitter than Chelsea towards the end of their fixture and a relatively young side should be able to cope. In any case the Premier League team should have too much ability for Villa who are in the bottom half of the Championship after dropping down from the Premier League last season.
Arsenal visit Preston on Sunday and the outcome could again depend on the strength of the side Arsene Wenger selects. However, he has only won the FA Cup over the last 10 years and probably realises that winning a trophy is critical for his medium to long term future with Arsenal. The London club can progress to the next round but the victory might not be as clear cut as the relative odds suggest.
The match between Cardiff and Fulham on Sunday has draw written all over it while Leeds can beat Cambridge on the road on Monday evening. Stourbridge and/or Wycombe will be in the hat for the fourth round but how that match pans out will not be seen live on television. However, Stourbridge might be on TV if they draw Man United away in the next round.