THE FA Cup is in the limelight this weekend. The third round takes centre stage in the world of football and just like how the tournament has unfolded over the years, there is much drama in prospect, even if last night’s double header threatened to overshadow the proceedings of today, tomorrow and Monday.
Liverpool were scheduled to host Everton in a Merseyside derby and Manchester United were drawn to play Derby County, second in the Championship league standings.
But the coming together today of the irrepressible Manchester City side and Premiership surprise package Burnley, should provide intrigue in equally good measure, as too should Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers’ clash with top flight basement outfit Swansea.
AFC Wimbledon travel to Tottenham tomorrow for what could also be a combative encounter, given that the feisty club from England’s third tier, League One, will have nothing to lose and will be spoiling for a real FA Cup brawl.
Nottingham Forest, who sacked their manager last week and are now under the stewardship of caretaker Gary Brazil, are also without a win in their last five league games. But that should not pale into insignificance because the prospect of toppling defending champions Arsenal may prove just enough motive to pull off a major shock.
In a tournament that started back in 1871 and 736 clubs featured in the last season, another all-Premiership fixture brings the curtain on the third round when Brighton & Hove Albion entertain Crystal Palace at the Amex Stadium on Monday.
Burnley will be seeking a fair degree of revenge when they visit the Etihad Stadium. They crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Citizens in the league in October.
An upset today cannot be ruled out, but it appears highly unlikely that City will surrender the honours in Manchester. More so as Pep Guardiola’s team returned to winning ways in midweek with a workmanlike victory over Watford – coming as it did after the draw at Palace last Sunday.
There is every likelihood that Guardiola will rotate more than a handful of players today. But they will still be expected to triumph, and handsomely at that.
The Clarets have somewhat gone off the boil after a purposeful start to the season and have not won a league match in their last five outings. Indeed, they were pipped 2-1 by Liverpool at their Turf Moor Stadium on New Year’s Day.
Inspirational manager Sean Dyche has an outstanding ability to get his squad to punch above their weight. At the Etihad, he will be hoping for a return to that sort of form by his team.
City will definitely be without Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus, who sustained knee ligament damage in the game at Palace.
Wolverhampton Wanderers will be quietly confident of springing a surprise when Swansea visit Molineux Stadium, a venue the club has called home since 1880.
Wolves lead the Championship division by a massive 12 points from Derby County and are favourites to gain promotion to the Premier League in May.
In contrast, Swansea, who appointed Carlos Carvalhal as manager last week after the sacking of Paul Clement five days before Christmas, are rooted to the bottom of the Premiership standings.
They are firm favourites to be relegated to the Championship.
But one never knows just what may happen in the FA Cup. Swansea may somehow find enough to edge out their hosts.
The same could be said of AFC Wimbledon on their trip to Tottenham. Last season’s Premier League runners-up will start as overwhelming favourites to reach the fourth round, given the depth and quality of their squad.
But the FA Cup ever so often conjures a turn up of the books. And if Spurs, who are expected to field a changed side to their regular line-up in the league and fail to hold their own against the minnows, they could well be left an embarrassed lot.
The likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, have been among the goals in recent games and should they play tomorrow, they should lead the line for Spurs and ensure the Wembley-based outfit make it to the next round.
Nottingham Forest’s home game against Arsenal also has the potential of a colossal upset.
The Gunners, though, who despite blowing hot and cold this season, should get through at the expense of a club that was taken over by Evangelos Marinakis last May.
The shipping tycoon, who also owns Greek Super League champions Olympiacos, would dearly love to see Forest progress and there is no saying that they cannot do it. But they’ll have to be at their very best and catch Arsenal on an off-day.
Brazil, who took over on Dec 31 after Mark Warburton was given the boot by a team who are also known as the Tricky Trees, praised his young squad for their commitment in Monday's goalless draw at Leeds.
The caretaker manager will be expecting similar commitment and desire – of that we can rest be assured.
Brazil and his makeshift management team will be one of several underdog sides keen on bucking the system and knocking out one of the favourites – something that the FA Cup has become well-known for.
Thus, City and the other fancied outfits should be wary of being upstaged in the oldest and most celebrated football tournament in world club football.
FA Cup Fixtures
Fleetwood Town vs Leicester City
Middlesbrough vs Sunderland
Aston Villa vs Peterborough Town
Birmingham City vs Burton Albion
Blackburn Rovers vs Hull City
Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield
Bournemouth vs Wigan Athletic
Brentford vs Notts County
Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town
Carlisle Utd vs Sheffield Wed
Coventry City vs Stoke City
Doncaster Rovers vs Rochdale
Exeter City vs West Bromwich
Fulham vs Southampton
Ipswich Town vs Sheffield Utd
Man City vs Burnley
Millwall vs Barnsley
Newcastle vs Luton Town
QPR vs Milton Keynes Dons
Stevenage vs Reading
Watford vs Bristol City
Wolverhampton W vs Swansea
Wycombe vs Preston North End
Yeovil Town vs Bradford City
Norwich City vs Chelsea
Newport County vs Leeds
Shrewsbury vs West Ham
Tottenham vs AFC Wimbledon
Nott Forest vs Arsenal
Brighton vs Crystal Palace