While it did not produce a considerable amount of genuine upsets, the third round of the FA Cup provided plenty of entertainment and talking points, not to mention some memorable goals. Now it is time for the last 32, the draw for which has thrown up several intriguing ties which offer the potential for shocks as some Premier League clubs face tricky trips to face lower league opponents whose supporters will create a partisan atmosphere.
The first of these takes place on Friday as Championship promotion hopefuls Derby County entertain a continually ailing Manchester United. Rams boss Paul Clement has experience of working with some of the world’s top players while part of the staff at Real Madrid, and he has generally fared well in his first managerial position despite a poor recent run which has seen them slip from second in the table to fifth.
They are determined to reach the Premier League this time around and in their attempts to achieve that they have put together a squad that is rich in talent and strength in depth, especially in attack. Man Utd will surely be put under pressure from the start, as the last thing that manager Louis van Gaal needs is being knocked out of the FA Cup by a second tier club. The Dutchman, who remains under severe pressure following another bad result last weekend against Southampton, badly needs a response from his side, and a better performance than the one that saw them sneak past Sheffield United in round three.
The most embarrassing defeat of van Gaal’s reign came in last season’s Capital One Cup at Milton Keynes Dons, who face another of the Premier League’s elite clubs on Sunday in Chelsea, who are fresh from overcoming rivals Arsenal last time out and are still unbeaten under interim boss Guus Hiddink. The Dons are battling to avoid relegation in what is their first season in the Championship, where they have often found it tough going, so it would be a huge surprise if they were to come out on top here.
It would be an even bigger surprise should League One strugglers Colchester United overcome in-form Tottenham, who are hardly putting a foot wrong in the Premier League at present. Kevin Keen has recently taken charge of the Essex club and is yet to claim his first league victory, and there is a pressing need now with the club having not won since October and lying seven points adrift of safety with an abysmal defensive record. However, teams in lowly positions tend to raise their game quite considerably for matches of this nature, so maybe they could have a chance.
Of the other ties, holders Arsenal face a home tie against Burnley as they look for their first win since seeing off Sunderland in the last round, with the visitors riding high in the Championship after scoring at least three goals in each of their last seven league games. The late kick-off on Saturday sees Liverpool – after they finally got the better of Exeter City – take on a West Ham United against whom they have already lost twice in the Premier League this term, while Manchester City head to Aston Villa. The other clash between two top-flight teams sees Crystal Palace face Stoke City at Selhurst Park.
Currently third in League Two, Oxford United delivered the biggest story of round three by disposing of Swansea City thanks to a tremendous all-round display which saw them outplay their opponents and deservedly make it through. For a place in the last 16, they must get the better of Blackburn Rovers, who have struggled recently in the Championship due to a seven game run without a win.
In terms of goals, the best place to watch a match this weekend could be Brunton Park, which is back in use after being swamped by the recent flooding in Northern England. Carlisle United are known for being involved in high-scoring affairs as they aim for the League Two play-offs, while opponents Everton have flattered to deceive throughout 2015-16 as their leaky defence undermines their silky, fluent attacking play.
There are so many standout fixtures, and it would be something of a surprise if there were to be no shocks over the course of the weekend. But anything to match Bradford City stunning Chelsea at this stage a year ago? Perhaps not.
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