FA Cup round 3 preview: Merseyside derby the standout fixture as top flight teams join the mix

FA Cup Preview Liverpool

There’s little question as to the standout tie of the third round of the 2017-18 FA Cup, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton. It has been less than a month since the teams last clashed at Anfield, the 1-1 draw when the Reds squandered a plethora of chances against Sam Allardyce’s men. The home side will be keen on setting that right and they go into the cup clash on the back of three consecutive wins, including hard-fought victories over Leicester and Burnley. By contrast, Everton lost both of their games over New Year’s weekend, their first defeats since Allardyce took charge just over a month ago. It’s unlikely that Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah will take part, although there could be a Liverpool debut for Virgil van Dijk. Adam Lallana is another who could start as he continues to get game time under his belt following his lengthy injury.

Also on Friday night, Manchester United welcome Derby to Old Trafford, where Jose Mourinho’s men were twice held to draws over the Christmas period. They once more come up against promotion-chasing Championship opposition just two weeks after their Carabao Cup exit at Bristol City, although United go into this clash on the back of a much-needed win at Everton. Derby have been in impressive form of late and might well have been fancied to cause an upset had this game been on at the iPro Stadium. Still, they could give Mourinho’s side a very stern test.

With the Premier League seemingly sewn up and on the brink of the Carabao Cup final, Manchester City could be eyeing a domestic treble and their FA Cup journey starts on Saturday at home to Burnley, whose unlikely European charge took several dents over the festive period. City avoided a real scare at Crystal Palace last weekend and took their frustrations out on Watford on Tuesday, and even though Pep Guardiola is likely to ring the changes, they’ll probably have too much for the Clarets.

Last season’s finalists Arsenal and Chelsea both travel to out-of-sorts Championship opposition, with the Gunners facing Nottingham Forest and the Blues away to Norwich. The London duo served up one of the games of the season in midweek and might give fringe players a run in the FA Cup ties ahead of the renewal of their rivalry in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. This season, Wembley hosts an FA Cup match as early as the third round, with Tottenham playing host to AFC Wimbledon, who earned promotion to League One at the national stadium in 2016. In addition to the two other all-Premier League ties already mentioned in the piece, Brighton and Crystal Palace square up to each other on Monday night. Let’s hope the talk afterwards is about football and not fan hostility, as was the case following their 0-0 draw in the league a few weeks ago.

Will some Premier League teams come a cropper against Football League opposition? Among those in danger are Southampton, who go to Fulham on the back of just one win in 11 league games and whose confidence is on the floor after that shocking home defeat to Crystal Palace in midweek. Watford must also be careful to avoid being overturned by Bristol City, who have already beaten them at Vicarage Road this season in the early stages of the Carabao Cup. West Ham make a tricky trip to Shrewsbury on Sunday, with the Shrews well placed for promotion from League One. At Molineux, there is the firm possibility of a Championship club being favourites against Premier League opposition, with red-hot Wolves hosting top-flight strugglers Swansea.

Stoke and West Brom are both struggling in the Premier League, so what chance of them being at the wrong end of what would be real upsets? They both travel to League Two opposition, with the under-fire Mark Hughes hoping for at least a temporary reprieve against 1987 winners Coventry. Alan Pardew is still waiting for his first win as Baggies boss; it’s an unenviable record that should come to an end against Exeter on Saturday, although the Grecians have taken Manchester United and Liverpool to replays in previous FA Cups. Another Premier League v League Two clash takes place at St James’ Park, with Newcastle taking on high-flying Luton. It’s a tie that could have been very intriguing if the Hatters had home advantage.

Leicester’s trip to Fleetwood Town on Saturday might not be a standout tie in a larger context, but it’s one that will be very significant for Jamie Vardy, who comes up against his former club as a player whose profile has evolved exponentially since his Fleetwood days. Bournemouth are at home to 2013 winners Wigan, who currently sit top of League One, while Huddersfield are away to Championship strugglers Bolton.

The Merseyside derby is not the only neighbourly clash in the third round, with the north-east face-off between Middlesbrough and Sunderland pitting Welsh managers Tony Pulis and Chris Coleman against each other. Three Championship sides hoping to avoid upsets are Reading, Leeds and Preston, who visit League Two outfits Stevenage, Newport County and Wycombe respectively.

Liverpool’s January won’t be as busy as the corresponding month of 2017, due to the early exit from this season’s Carabao Cup, but after two consecutive years of third-round replays (both of which were against fourth-tier opposition from the south-west), the Reds will want to get the job done first time around against their local rivals on Friday night. Do that, and the focus can firmly be on the visit of Manchester City on Sunday week.