The football season in England moves on from the biggest match in the Premier League seamlessly to the third round of the FA Cup. Teams are playing 10 matches in about a month at the end of December and early in January and the biggest clubs are playing in up to four competitions. Manchester City and Liverpool meet on Thursday night and regardless of the outcome both clubs are competing in the most famous Cup competition in the world this weekend. Winning the FA Cup will not compensate for missing out on the Premier League but that could transpire for City.
There will be some upsets in the round that the Premier League and Championship clubs enter the fray. However, the cream rises to the top. The average finishing position in the Premier League of the Cup winners is fourth. The average finishing position of the losing finalists is eighth. Despite the so called romance of the Cup one of the elite clubs who usually qualify for the Champions League wins the FA Cup. Despite falling off the pace in the league City are the best equipped. Manchester United have the profile of runners-up so there could be an all-Manchester final.
The Saturday of the third round of the FA Cup was traditionally one of the most exciting days of the season. In the pre-Premier League era all 32 ties started at 3pm and there were no live matches. The only live coverage was for the final and even the semi-finals could only be viewed in highlights on the evening of the matches or the following day. Flexible scheduling and the demands of television mean only 10 third round ties begin at 3pm on Saturday. The live televised football bubble is unlikely to burst and TV funds the modern stadia and best players so call the tune.
Six fixtures have been rearranged for live television and the only all-Premier League tie is Wolves home match against Liverpool on Monday night. Team selection will be key and the priorities for both clubs could be a clue to the outcome. Even if they lose to Manchester City Liverpool will be the league leaders when the match is played and they are in the last 16 of the Champions League. The FA Cup would be third on their wish list but it is Wolves’ best chance of winning a trophy. The home team are tipped to progress to the next round.
Whenever Manchester United are drawn at home against a team from a lower division the match is shown live. Reading visit Old Trafford on Saturday and this tie loks like being one of the home bankers. Reading are 23rd in the Championship and have not won in five matches. The tie has been chosen for coverage for its giant-killing potential but even if the home team play the second string the starting 11 will include international players. United can beat Reading by more than two goals.
The other four live matches feature Premier League teams on the road against opponents from a lower division. Here are the positions in the league pyramid of each club:
Tranmere 77 v Tottenham 2
Blackpool 54 v Arsenal 5
Woking 94 v Watford 9
Newport County 80 v Leicester 7
The gap in wealth between clubs in the Premier League and the rest of the professional game means even in one-off matches the richer clubs should prevail. Managers now respect the competition more so the Premier League clubs are unlikely to field the reserves. Bookmakers generally like accumulators but there is no logic to not backing the higher ranked clubs to win in 90 minutes in a fourfold at 11/10.