The gyms are full, smokers trying to quit are nervously twitching, and the only things left in the Celebrations tin are the Bounty bars. Yes, the first week of January is here. And while the doom and gloom of getting back into the normal routine hits us harder than an Anthony Joshua right hook, we can at least celebrate the return of the FA Cup this weekend.
It’s the Third Round proper and that means the arrival of the Premier League big dogs. While seventh-tier side Stourbridge FC started their FA Cup journey four months ago with a 3-1 win away to Peterbrough Sports, this is the first time in the Cup we get to see the top flight teams take centre stage.
Odds of a Cupset?
In the last six years Premier League sides have played 76 Third Round matches against lower league opposition, and 34 per cent of the time they failed to win. So there’s more than a sniff of hope of a magical upset this weekend.
Last year League Two’s Oxford came from behind to beat Swansea 3-2, while fellow League Two side Exeter gave Jurgen Klopp a scare as Liverpool had to come from behind to pinch a 2-2 draw and force a replay. There was more drama on show than in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother, and in total 26 lower league sides have either beaten or forced a replay with top flight opposition in the Third Round since 2011.
Into the Lion’s Den
The most likely place to find a Premier League upset may be in South East London tomorrow when Millwall host Bournemouth. 44 places separate the sides in the league tiers, but the Lions lost just six of their 31 home games in all competitions in 2016 and are 16/5 to end the Cherries’ cup dream at the earliest opportunity.
Having survived last year’s scare, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool face a side 62 places below them in the shape of League Two promotion-chasing Plymouth Argyle. It took an extra-time penalty for Plymouth to see off Newport County in the last round, and Derke Adams’ side are 17/1 to win on Sunday and pull off the biggest upset of them all.
Elsewhere League One Peterbrough are 16/1 to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, while Championship duo Preston 6/1 and Reading 13/1 face Arsenal and Manchester United respectively in Saturday’s TV games.