In Review

FA Cup third round: Will there be any upsets this year?

The draw looks fairly straightforward, but anything can happen on the most romantic week of the football calendar

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It is the romantic weekend of the football calendar, with 32 FA Cup third round ties to be played across four days, starting with Manchester City vs West Ham this evening.

But could this year prove to be a damp squib?

There are only four all Premier-League ties and two of them - Hull City vs Swansea and Sunderland vs Burnley - involve the three teams in the relegation zone and another tipped to struggle.

Meanwhile, of the David vs Goliath ties, there are few that look likely to produce an upset, while Preston vs Arsenal is arguably the only major clash with an authentic whiff of history about it.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United lead the betting - and with good reason, says the Daily Mail.

It says: "In 21 FA Cup finals since Everton beat Manchester United in 1995, only twice has the winner come from outside the top five in this year's market – Portsmouth in 2008 and Wigan in 2013.

"It's hard to see any of them slipping up at the first hurdle."

Man City have the toughest task away at West Ham, while Arsenal must travel to Preston. The other Premier League leaders have it relatively easy: Chelsea play Peterborough at home, Liverpool face Plymouth at Anfield, Spurs are at home to Aston Villa and Manchester United face Reading at Old Trafford.

In terms of other teams to watch, the Mail says that although "the same old faces have lifted the trophy, the likes of Aston Villa, Southampton, Millwall, West Ham, Cardiff, Stoke, Hull and Crystal Palace have made the final since the turn of the century". 

That makes teams such as Bournemouth (40-1) and West Brom (60-1) a worthwhile bet.

And although there are no obvious upsets on the cards, that does not mean there won't be a shock. Here are some key fixtures to watch this weekend.

Preston vs Arsenal 

Arsene Wenger is on the horns of a dilemma over his selection as he has limited options in midfield and wants to rest Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny. That could offer a glimmer of hope to the Lilywhites. Of the top teams, Arsenal look to be the most in danger of a humiliating early exit (on the basis that losing to West Ham would not be humiliating for Manchester City).

Millwall vs Bournemouth

The Cherries may be riding high in the Premier League, but no one relishes a trip to Millwall. "Off the pitch there are problems over their future at the Den but on the pitch they're four games unbeaten and pushing for a play-off place," says the Daily Telegraph. "This is by no means a given."

Bolton vs Crystal Palace

Sam Allardyce worked wonders at Bolton as manager but has so far failed to do so at Palace. A return to his old stomping ground could be bitter rather than sweet. "Bolton's priorities remain promotion from League One – they are currently second – and sorting a still-slightly-shaky situation in the boardroom but will fancy their chances of adding to Allardyce's discomfort," says The Guardian.

Norwich vs Southampton

Saints lost all three of their Christmas fixtures and it will be tough for them to get back on track for the cup. Norwich on the other hand believe they may have turned the corner. "Norwich boss Alex Neil had been under serious pressure but his side beat Derby last time out and he could go from zero to hero if they beat Southampton," says the BBC.

Ipswich vs Lincoln

"If you're looking for a non-league shock, you might be well advised to keep an eye on events at Portman Road," says the Guardian. "Mick McCarthy's ludicrously inconsistent Ipswich side... host the National League leaders Lincoln City." It makes for an "awkward tie for McCarthy's side, who are going nowhere fast in the Championship".

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