Having played three fixtures in seven days, the Barclays Premier League takes a breather this weekend. But that doesn’t mean England’s top clubs get a break. Goodness no. While the rest of us set about breaking our New Year resolutions, the top tier of English football enters the blood and thunder of the oldest domestic cup competition in the world: The FA Cup.
First held in 1871, The FA Cup is open to all FA-recognized teams across the land, spanning the ability and budgetary divide from billionaire-owned reigning Premier League champions all the way down to village sides scraping by on garage sales and raffle tickets. It’s a bit like your local semi-pro team being offered a route to the Super Bowl. Yes, you’re unlikely to get there, but you just might make it far enough to face an NFL team.
736 clubs entered this year’s competition, with qualifying rounds starting all the way back in August. 64 teams remain, with five further rounds standing between each of them and a place in the final at Wembley Stadium.
This weekend marks the Third Round of the competition proper, the point at which Premier League teams enter the fray. So, why should you tune into the FA Cup this weekend? In short, because it’s unlike any other football you’ll see on television. This is warp-speed, end-to-end soccer played with the knowledge that there are no group stages; no two-legged ties or seven-game series; if you lose, you’re out. So you better bloody well win.
Throw into that mix the presence of hungry upstart teams from the darker reaches of English football, and pitches that bear closer resemblance to a First World War battle field than the manicured perfection of a Premier League stadium, and you have all the ingredients required for a sensational giant killing. Indeed, so prevalent are upsets in the FA Cup that the only sensation would be if there aren’t any. Last season, Aston Villa were sent crashing out of the Cup by third tier Sheffield United (who went all the way to the semi finals), while in 2011 Newcastle United lost 3-1 to fourth tier Stevenage Borough (Who? Exactly.).
So who will be this year’s big Premier League scalp? We honestly don’t know, and anyone who says they do is lying through their teeth. So instead, we simply suggest that, if you like the thought of watching millionaire prima donnas trying to cope with how football is played in the real world, you tune into the five biggest mismatches of the third round (respective league rankings and stadium capacity are provided to quantify the divide).
AFC Wimbledon (81st | 4,850) vs. Liverpool (8th | 45,522)
Yeovil Town ( 68th | 9,565) vs. Manchester United (3rd | 75,731)
Blyth Spartans (Non-League | 4,435) vs. Birmingham City (34th | 30,016)
West Bromwich Albion (17th | 26,445) vs. Gateshead (Non-League | 11,800)
Stoke City (11th | 27,740) vs. Wrexham (Non-League | 10,771)
Enjoy the fun.
If you liked this, you might like: