FA Cup third round: 10 things to look out for this weekend | FA Cup

1) Strength in depth for Manchester City

When Manchester City and Chelsea met in the FA Cup in 2016, a raft of injuries, a packed schedule and the need to prioritize a looming Champions League match and the League Cup final compelled Manuel Pellegrini to field five teenagers for full City debuts at Stamford Bridge. To nobody’s surprise, his callow side was walloped by their far more experienced hosts and Pellegrini went on to be replaced by one of the few Premier League or Championship managers who treat the world’s oldest cup competition with the utmost respect and seriousness. “It was honestly one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Guardiola of City’s emphatic 2019 Cup final win, although his team are likely to face far less feeble opposition when they welcome Chelsea. While neither Guardiola nor Graham Potter is likely to field full-strength sides, both have more than enough quality players in reserve to ensure a full-blooded contest. City’s astonishing strength in squad depth could prove crucial. Barry Glendenning

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    2) Coventry goes to Hollywood

    As Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham, it was reported they were acquainted with the legend of Mickey Thomas and teammates’ 1992 FA Cup downing of Arsenal. In searching for a club to match their ambitions of creating a streaming franchise by polishing a community asset then surely Coventry came up. Reviving a fallen top-division mainstay lost in the wilderness and staring down homelessness would make for quite the Hollywood narrative, though perhaps the budget was beyond them. Coventry is another club inextricably linked with the FA Cup. Many members of Generation X will recall their 1987 final victory as the finest of all, and in their manager Mark Robins comes another name written deep into the competition’s lore, as the unassuming savior of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United regime in 1990. Beating Coventry, 14th in the Championship, and reaching the fourth round would be a highly significant storyline for the National League club’s owners to bask in. John Brewin

    Fans in masks of Wrexham owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds at Wembley before last year's FA Trophy final.
    Fans in masks of Wrexham owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds at Wembley before last year’s FA Trophy final. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/The FA/Getty Images

    3) A seismic 2002 shock revisited

    This weekend marks the 21st anniversary of the third round tie in which Cardiff City, then a third tier side, famously dumped out high-flying Leeds United at Ninian Park. A huge giantkilling, it came to be recognized as the first of many dominos to fall in the subsequent decline, a financial meltdown that led to the phrase “doing a Leeds” entering the football vernacular and the club itself entering League One at the lowest ebb of their 16-year absence from the top flight. Enmity has simmered between fans of the two clubs and in 22 subsequent meetings, Cardiff have notched up 14 wins compared to Leeds’ return of just three. While the FA Cup is unlikely to feature prominently on Jesse Marsch’s list of priorities, any failure to take his first ever match in the competition seriously will not be tolerated by Leeds fans traveling to the Cardiff City Stadium. BG file

    Scott Young scores the winning goal as Cardiff beat Leeds in 2002.
    Scott Young scores the winning goal as Cardiff pulled off the shock of the round in 2002. Photograph: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    4) Howe has learned defensive lessons

    The Newcastle United that will emerge from the Hillsborough tunnel on Saturday is, in many ways, the antithesis of what most people perceived an Eddie Howe team to be. As Bournemouth manager, Howe was seen as an inspired attacking coach but not so hot defensively. Such criticism stung and during his sabbatical between leaving that post and joining Newcastle last November, he made a point of brushing up on defensive tactics, while also conducting study visits to Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone offered masterclasses in the streetwise dark arts of gamesmanship. As Arsenal discovered on Tuesday, Newcastle know how to waste time when it suits them. They are also mean at the back and have conceded only 11 goals in 18 Premier League games this season, keeping 10 clean sheets. Having Sven Botman on the left side of central defense helps immeasurably. Darren Moore’s Sheffield Wednesday, currently flying high in League One, will be hoping Botman is rested for the trip to South Yorkshire. Moore might be mindful of Howe’s recent admission: “I had the reputation of not being a good defensive coach and I didn’t particularly like that.” Louise Taylor

    5) Gakpo effect could further weary Wolves

    Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui is unhappy that Liverpool have two extra days to recover and prepare for their third round tie at Anfield, and his mood will not be improved by the prospect of facing a fresh and fit Cody Gakpo as Jürgen Klopp’s new signing prepares to make his club debut. Gakpo’s transfer was confirmed 10 days ago, with the 23-year-old costing an initial €40m from PSV Eindhoven rising to €50m, but a post-World Cup holiday and paperwork issues meant he was not considered for Monday’s Premier League defeat at Brentford . Gakpo’s last competitive outing was on 9 December in the Netherlands’ tempestuous quarter-final penalties loss to Argentina. But with the World Cup star offering an enticing solution to Liverpool’s problems on the left flank – and needing game-time to shake off the Qatar rust – a weary Wolves in the FA Cup provides an ideal opportunity for Anfield to welcome its latest recruit. Andy Hunter

    6) Ferguson riding crest of youthful wave

    This year marks the 40th anniversary of Brighton reaching the FA Cup Final, a high-point paired with relegation from the old First Division. No such worries about the drop this season, with Roberto De Zerbi’s team pushing for a European place, so might a Cup run be in order? A long trip to Middlesbrough begins the journey, where they will face a club revived by Michael Carrick since he took over in October. Three wins over Christmas have cemented a playoff position. De Zerbi will undoubtedly shuffle his pack but he may well choose to ride the wave currently created by Evan Ferguson after goals against both Arsenal and Everton. Back in Ireland, there is genuine excitement about the Dubliner, son of the former Under-21 international Barry. At 18 years and 76 days, Ferguson Jr scored and supplied an assist on his first start at Goodison, the second-youngest to do so in the Premier League after Michael Owen in 1997. JB extension

    In apparent financial meltdown off the pitch but in form on it, West Brom travel to Derbyshire to take on Chesterfield, currently battling to win promotion from the National League during their fifth year in non-League purgatory. The authors of one of the greatest FA Cup fairytales ever written when they made it to a semi-final against Middlesbrough as a third division side in 1997, Chesterfield were subsequently robbed due to the absence of goal-line technology. These days, the Spireites can only dream of such epic “failure” but may have to take on West Brom without their manager Paul Cook to guide them from the technical area. The 55-year-old is still waiting to hear from FA HQ if he’s facing a ban for the touchline tantrum that earned him the yellow and red cards that made him a Boxing Day viral sensation. BG file

    Armando Dobra scores for Chesterfield against AFC Wimbledon in the second round.
    Armando Dobra was on the scoresheet for Chesterfield against AFC Wimbledon in the second round. Photograph: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

    8) Spurs and Pompey both under pressure

    Antonio Conte has bittersweet memories of the FA Cup, after being sacked by Chelsea despite winning the competition in 2018. His recent media appearances suggest he may soon enough have bittersweet memories of Tottenham though his grumblings came to an end with Wednesday’s 4-0 win at Crystal Palace as Harry Kane came back to form. Having lately dredged through his squad to give game time to the likes of Bryan Gil and Pape Sarr, also returning Oliver Skipp to the starting lineup, there is little sense in predicting Conte’s Saturday team selection. Danny Cowley, a manager perhaps even more animated on the sidelines than the Italian, would have been Conte’s opposite number only to be sacked in midweek as a team expected to be competing for promotion from League One languishes in mid-table. JB extension

    9) Another fairy tale run for Boreham Wood?

    Mid-table in the National League and through to the third round for the third consecutive season, Boreham Wood are the lowest ranked team left in this season’s FA Cup and might have hoped to welcome more glamorous opposition than Accrington Stanley. Last season, they saw off AFC Wimbledon at this stage and went on to knock out Bournemouth before losing to Everton, earning no end of plaudits and plenty of much-needed post-pandemic cash in the process. With the experience of that run behind him, manager Luke Garrard will fancy his chances against an out-of-sorts side 41 places above his di lui in the pyramid. In the last round, Boreham Wood traveled to the Memorial Ground and knocked out Bristol Rovers, currently sitting nine places clear of Accrington in the League One table. BG file

    Boreham Wood fans enjoying the third round match against AFC Wimbledon last year.
    Boreham Wood fans enjoyed the march to the fifth round in last year’s competition. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

    10) Renewed United a tough ask for Lampard

    If Manchester United knock Everton out, Erik ten Hag’s men will chalk up a 10th victory in 11 matches in all competitions. If they do not it would represent a shock, testament to the work the Dutchman has done thus far and seeks to continue. The United he has constructed can play on the break and in possession and despite the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho being unavailable for selection, he is able to rotate personnel and still win. That was evident in Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf being a successful centre-back pairing versus Bournemouth and Alejandro Garnacho, on for the injured Donny van de Beek, creating Marcus Rashford’s third. The thought remains that United remain a work-in-progress and as Frank Lampard desperately needs a win to prevent being issued a P45, the result could still go the other way. Jamie Jackson

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