FA Cup 3rd Round: Liverpool favourites, Man Utd’s opportunity & more

The weekend of FA Cup round three is a lot like second Christmas to English football fans.

When the most entertaining football returns to terrestrial television, when celebrity A-listers have to get changed in the equivalent of an outhouse with minimal plumbing, when VAR has buggered off for the majority of fixtures – this is true football.

Here’s your comprehensive review of this weekend’s third round action.

  • Liverpool emerge from Arsenal tie as FA Cup favourites
Liverpool knocked out Arsenal 

Arsenal were made to rue a plethora of missed chances as they fell to Liverpool at the first hurdle of their FA Cup adventure.

The Gunners dominated the Reds during a one-sided first half, but some tactical tweaks from Jurgen Klopp helped stem the tide after the break and the visitors went on to win the tie with two late goals.

That Liverpool were able to go to one of the country’s best teams without their two best players – the AFCON-bound Mohamed Salah and ill Virgil van Dijk – withstand a barrage of pressure and still make the requisite tweaks needed to clinch the tie in only 90 minutes is testament to Klopp’s current cohort.

They can hurt the best of teams in a number of ways even with their star men out – a proven recipe for cup success.

  • But Tottenham have a great chance to go all the way
Porro fired Tottenham into round four

Tottenham Hotspur had to endure a similar suffering to advance to the next round, relying on a screamer from Pedro Porro to eek past Burnley.

Further paralleling Liverpool, Spurs were still missing several key players, including all three of their nominated captains – Son Heung-min, James Maddison and Cristian Romero.

They have been pitted at home to Manchester City in round four, and while that’s not an ideal opponent for Spurs in their quest to end their 16-year trophy drought, their visitors will have dreaded the draw a little more than themselves.

City have lost all five of their visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and have not even scored a goal at the billion-pound ground. They should at least have Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland available for their next trip to north London while Spurs will still have major absences, but that mental hurdle is still in need of clearing.

Should Tottenham progress, then they will surely have overcome a huge mental obstacle of their own. With Postecoglou’s men only competing on two fronts from here on in, they should be able to prioritise winning the cup.

  • Man Utd can use FA Cup to play their way back into form
Man Utd saw off Wigan

So this is the state of Manchester United’s season – praising them for beating up a League One team.

Well, you can only beat what’s in front of you, I guess. Congratulations to the Red Devils for finally looking like a potent attacking team (even if none of your attackers scored again).

Up next for United is a trip to either Newport County or Eastleigh in round four, another fine test of their true credentials.

In all seriousness, Ten Hag is clearly determined to play his strongest team possible in the cup and get some much-needed rhythm going again. It should work for at least two rounds to get them through January.

  • Chelsea’s fitness gain finally races to the surface
Chelsea ended up thrashing Preston

The first half of Chelsea’s eventual 4-0 win at home to Preston North End was quite a difficult watch no matter your allegiance. The Blues and the Lilywhites fought for every inch for 45 minutes until the hosts pulled away.

Again, there’s a limit to the kudos you can give to a team constructed for £1bn for beating one from the division below, but this was at least Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy in action – if you win the physical battle, you’ll probably win the football match.

Chelsea motored past Preston thanks to their quality but also their far superior physicality, with the visitors noticeably waning after the interval. A small gain from a big numerical win.

The magic of the cup is still alive
Non-league Maidstone are into round four

Every year we have to engage in discourse about the ‘magic of the cup’ supposedly dying, and every year we realise that it hasn’t.

National League South side Maidstone United earned themselves a trip to Championship high-flyers Ipswich Town after seeing off Stevenage.

Blackpool upset Nottingham Forest for a second year running. Sunderland at least had the chance to take on bitter rivals Newcastle United before embarrassing themselves on and off the pitch.

It’s not all about the giant killings or fairytales, but the FA Cup will always be the FA Cup. It stands alone in the history of football trophies.

  • The replay debate is the cup version of the VAR debate

Thomas Frank suggested replays should be scrapped 

What’s the one FA Cup topic more tiring than its magic? The replay debate.

Alright, there’s a decent argument for scrapping them for ties between teams in the same division, but this is an issue clubs should raise in the off-season. Quit getting in the way of the fun stuff and the column inches.

What we know

  • FA Cup third round brought shocks and the fall of big names
  • Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea into round four
  • Key takeaways and analysis from this weekend’s action.

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