It’s that time of year again! That magical time of year when television crews set up shop at nonleague grounds, academy players get a real shot at breaking into the first team, and a lot of really weird stuff happens. It’s the Third Round of the FA Cup, and it’s the weekend where we see English football at its best/worst. There was a lot to get through, but here’s the big stories we picked out.
1. About What You’d Expect
The FA Cup is known for smaller clubs staging massive upsets and taking down the big boys, but one of the reasons that happens is because the bigger clubs tend to rest their starters. When you’re still in a tight title race in the league and you’ve got Europe to worry about soon enough, the Cup is sort of an afterthought. Except for Pep Guardiola, apparently, who loaded up his side for their Third Round tie against West Ham and ended up mopping the floor with the opposition. It’s good to see the giants of the English game taking the Cup seriously, but it also makes you wonder what Pep thinks about his team’s chances in the Premier League this season.
2. An Unpleasant Homecoming
The big story heading into United’s tie at home to Reading was the opposition manager— former Red Devils defender Jaap Stam. These kind of homecomings are always awkward, but none more so than when your side is the clear underdog. Unsurprisingly, Reading were taken to the cleaners to the tune of 4-0, including Wayne Rooney tying Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of most goals scored by a United player. The result isn’t surprising, but if you’re Jaap Stam, this had to have been a difficult weekend.
We very nearly had a Cupset here, at least through the first half of this Battle of the Invincibles. Preston went ahead early and held the lead through halftime, but Arsenal were simply irrepressible and secured the win thanks to a late goal from Olivier Giroud (currently in the midst of a hot streak). The defensive frailty on display from Arsenal at times during the tie most certainly raised some eyebrows, but the great thing about the Cup is that how you win doesn’t really matter.
4. Playing The Kids
Out of necessity as much as anything else, Jürgen Klopp fielded a team of reserve players and recent academy graduates against Plymouth Argyle. As far as keeping his starters fresh ahead of what will be a grueling January, it was probably the right call. But it also inadvertently made Liverpool’s month a lot harder, as Plymouth held tight to force a replay and add yet another fixture obligation to an already crowded schedule. Don’t be too surprised if Liverpool end up cutting their losses for the replay.
5. The Mighty Mighty Whites
Life at Leeds United the past few years has been tumultuous (to put it charitably). From struggling performances on the pitch to a protracted drama in the boardroom, being a Leeds fan has been an exercise in patience and dedication in recent seasons. Their problems have been mitigated somewhat since Garry Monk took over as manager and has presided over markedly improved football. And while Cambridge were the underdogs in this tie, coming back from 1-0 to win and go through the next round was most certainly something Leeds should be rightfully proud of.
BONUS: Things are a little different in nonleague football
How is that not against the rules?
And here’s what the Fourth Round will look like:
v Wycombe Wanderers
Derby County v Leicester City
Oxford United v Newcastle United or Birmingham City
AFC Wimbledon or Sutton United v Leeds United
Plymouth Argyle or Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Southampton or Norwich City v Arsenal
Lincoln or Ipswich v Brighton
Chelsea v Brentford
v Wigan Athletic
Millwall v Watford
Rochdale v Huddersfield Town
Burnley or Sunderland v Fleetwood Town or Bristol City
Blackburn Rovers v Barnsley or Blackpool
Fulham v Hull City
Middlesbrough v Accrington Stanley
Crystal Palace or Bolton v Manchester City