LONDON: Free-falling Liverpool will hope to rediscover their knockout form when they visit Manchester City on Sunday in one of the plum ties of the English FA Cup third round.
Without a victory in 10 league games, Liverpool are desperate for any good news and a win over City and a good Cup run would lift their spirits.
The Maine Road clash is one of six all-Premier League match-ups in the world’s oldest cup competition, which appears to be returning to rude health after a period when it seemed to lose some of its lustre.
The other all-Premier ties are last season’s runners-up Chelsea v Middlesbrough, Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland, Fulham v Birmingham City, Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers and Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur.
Manchester United, the record 10 times winners of the competition, are at home to First Division leaders Portsmouth in another fascinating game.
Three minor league clubs have survived to the third round, the stage when the Premier League and First Division clubs enter, but all three missed out on a big name draw.
Farnborough Town visit Third Division Darlington, Dagenham and Redbridge travel to Second Division Plymouth Argyle and Morecambe are away to First Division Ipswich Town.
However, there is no shortage of shock material, with Third Division Oxford United dreaming of dethroning holders Arsenal at Highbury.
Other Third Division teams facing premier league opposition are Exeter, who visit Charlton Athletic, Scunthorpe, at home to Leeds United, and Shrewsbury, managed by former Everton FA Cup winning captain Kevin Ratcliffe, at home to the Merseyside club.
But it is the city’s other major team who will be in the spotlight.
Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool have suffered six defeats and four draws in their last 10 league games, the only high spots of the last two months coming in the UEFA and League Cups.
Liverpool won 3-0 at Maine Road in the league in September but will find things harder on Sunday, as former Anfield favourite Kevin Keegan has stiffened his side up considerably after a shaky start on their latest return to the top flight.
City striker Nicolas Anelka, rejected by Liverpool after a loan stint last season, will be anxious to prove a point by adding to his 10-goal tally for the campaign.
Liverpool’s league run is their worst since the 1953/54 season, which ended with relegation, when amid a 14-game winless spell, they were also knocked out the Cup in the third round by Bolton.
Oxford’s trip to Highbury is a classic FA Cup scenario, with the visitors dreaming of emulating Wrexham’s heroics against Arsenal 11 years ago.
The Welsh club, who finished 92nd and last in the league the previous season, knocked out the league champions in the third round.
Jefferson Louis scored the Oxford goal that beat Swindon in the second round but this time last year the striker had just come out of prison after serving six months for driving offences.
Louis, an Arsenal fan, has already provided one of the most memorable images of the season when TV cameras caught him, naked but for a carefully held towel, celebrating wildly after the Highbury draw was announced.
Oxford have already beaten Premier League opposition this season, knocking Charlton out of the League Cup, and their hopes of a much bigger shock should be boosted by the absence of Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, who strained a hamstring in Wednesday’s 3-2 league win over Chelsea.
Portsmouth are flying high in the First Division and manager Harry Redknapp is looking forward to the pressure being on the opposition for a change.
“Nobody gives us a chance, not even me,” said Redknapp, who tasted Cup success at Old Trafford with West Ham two years ago and upset United as manager of Third Division Bournemouth in 1984.
“Manchester United is nice but we want to get beyond the stage where we treat it as an enjoyable one-off day out,” he added.
“These are the places we want to be coming week in, week out.”
Former Southampton manager Glenn Hoddle makes his second trip to St Mary’s in four days following Wednesday’s league game, which the Saints won 1-0. – Reuters