The FA Cup 3rd Round weekend is still one of the biggest events in the English football calendar as 44 clubs from the top two divisions join the 20 other clubs who have fought their way through to this round from various starting points.
Two non-league clubs survive, both with club FA Cup records in their sights. AFC Fylde are participating in the FA Cup for just the 12th time and are appearing in the 3rd Round for the first time ever. Whatever happens in their encounter with Premier League side Sheffield United, the Coasters will become history makers.
Despite being a Football League club for most of their 102 year existence, Hartlepool United have never actually gone further than the 4th Round. A win at EFL One club Oxford United would equal that record run, but this time would be achieved having had to start one round earlier than on their previous best runs.
Four wins in one FA Cup season, though, would still not be a record for Pools despite their limited cup runs in the past. Back in their early FA Cup exploits the club once reached the 6th Qualifying Round having started in the Preliminary Round, a total of six victories in one season. If they match that this season, they’ll be in the Quarter Finals!
Near neighbours to AFC Fylde are Fleetwood Town who are already equalling their best FA Cup run to the 3rd Round for the 5th time in the last nine seasons. Hosting fellow EFL One club Portsmouth probably represents the best chance the Fishermen have had so far to progress to the 4th Round for the first time ever.
Burton Albion versus Northampton Town is the only 3rd Round tie where neither side has at least reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals in the past. The Brewers are looking to equal their best run to the 4th Round whilst the Cobblers have only ever gone as far as the 5th Round in the past.
There are just two all Premier League clashes in this year’s 3rd Round. Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United reprise their Quarter Final from last season. If Wolves win again this time it would become the first time ever the Red Devils have been knocked out of the competition by the same club in successive FA Cup matches!
The other all Premier League tie is the Merseyside Derby. Liverpool and Everton have been paired in the ‘Proper’ Rounds of the FA Cup more often than any two other teams. Including Finals, this will be their 19th FA Cup pairing and their 25th match.
Even though they lead by 11 wins to seven in past FA Cup meetings, two years ago saw Liverpool’s first victory over their neighbours in the competition at Anfield!
If no Premier League club suffers a Cupset in this round then it would equal the 18 top flight clubs who progressed to the 4th Round in the 2000-01 season when Bradford City and Newcastle United were the only Premier League 3rd Round casualties.
The second most common tie of this year’s 3rd Round sees Arsenal take on Leeds United in the Monday night match on BBC One. Including Finals this is the 10th time the two clubs have been drawn together in the competition with the Gunners winning through on seven of the previous nine occasions.
Arsenal are Leeds United’s most common FA Cup opponent but they’ve never beaten the Gunners at Elland Road in the competition. If they’re going to cause a Cupset this year, then they’d better not rely on a replay to achieve it.
Eighteen 3rd Round ties in total involve two clubs who’ve actually met each other in the competition at least once in the past, but for one tie many researchers may not realise they have actually done so. There’s no record of ‘Gillingham’ playing ‘West Ham United’ in the FA Cup, but they have met four times before, all at the turn of the Twentieth Century, when one or both of the clubs played under their previous names.
Two Premier League clubs are in the midst of contrasting FA Cup runs. Chelsea have not failed to progress beyond the 3rd Round for 21 seasons, last losing at this stage of the competition in the 1997-98 season (3-5 at home to Manchester United).
Norwich City, on the other hand, have failed to progress to the 4th Round since the 2012-13 season (a 3-0 win at Peterborough United). The Canaries’ poor run is the longest current non-winning run, a title they only recently claimed by virtue of their local rivals, Ipswich Town, winning their first FA Cup game in 10 years earlier in this year’s competition.
There are 13 Premier League clubs hosting an FA Cup 3rd Round tie, meaning that 13 of the 32 ties will utilise VAR whilst the others will not. Unfortunately the FA have not taken the lead from UEFA who decided that if all Euro 2020 qualifying matches could not use VAR then no qualifying matches would use it. Their approach brings an imbalance to the competition and I believe it is a poor decision by the FA to allow this inconsistency.
A positive decision made by the FA, however, is that all FA Cup 3rd Round matches are officially starting one minute later than matches might ordinarily begin, in order to highlight the FA’s mental health charity’s Heads-Up campaign. Which leads me to ….
Tie by Tie Previews (listed in Kick Off time order)
Saturday 12.31 pm
Birmingham City vs Blackburn Rovers
Bristol City vs Shrewsbury Town
Burnley vs Peterborough United
Millwall vs Newport County
Rochdale vs Newcastle United
Rotherham United vs Hull City
Brentford vs Stoke City
Brighton and Hove Albion vs Sheffield Wednesday
Cardiff City vs Carlisle United
Fulham vs Aston Villa
Oxford United vs Hartlepool United
Preston North End vs Norwich City
Reading vs Blackpool
Southampton vs Huddersfield Town
Watford vs Tranmere Rovers
AFC Bournemouth vs Luton Town
Fleetwood Town vs Portsmouth
Leicester City vs Wigan Athletic
Manchester City vs Port Vale
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Manchester United
Bristol Rovers vs Coventry City
Burton Albion vs Northampton Town
Charlton Athletic vs West Bromwich Albion
Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest
Crewe Alexandra vs Barnsley
Crystal Palace vs Derby County
Middlesbrough vs Tottenham Hotspur
Queens Park Rangers vs Swansea City
Sheffield United vs AFC Fylde
Liverpool vs Everton
Gillingham vs West Ham United
Arsenal vs Leeds United