Our reporters think the big derby will end all square while the two Merseyside clubs have been tipped to ease past their opponents in the third round of the FA Cup
There are some absolutely corking fixtures in the offing, with the undoubted stand-out coming at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, where Manchester City host rivals Manchester United who, after losing to both Blackburn and Newcastle in their last two games, face their noisy neighbours in terrible form.
It wouldn't quite be the third round without some potential giant killings and the weekend kicks off with Oldham hoping to be David to Liverpool's Goliath at Anfield on Friday night. Kenny Dalglish's men will be desperate to bounce back from a 3-0 loss against Roberto Mancini's league leaders in midweek. Tamworth's visit to Goodison Park the next day also offers a potential upset, with Everton struggling for form.
Saturday kicks off with another derby as Championship side Birmingham welcome a Wolves outfit with whom they scrapped in the relegation battle last season, while Tottenham host Cheltenham in another potential banana skin match for one of the Premier League's strongest teams.
A jam-packed day also sees Blackburn travel to in-from Newcastle while West Brom face a dangerous Cardiff side and Norwich will come up against Burnley.
The Manchester derby isn't the only enticing fixture on Sunday, with Chelsea and Portsmouth meeting for the first time since the 2010 FA Cup final. Elsewhere, Peterborough welcome a Martin O'Neill-inspired Sunderland side and West Ham visit Hillsborough to face Sheffield Wednesday.
On Monday evening two teams rich in history clash as Arsenal prepare to take on Leeds at the Emirates. As in previous weeks, we will have 10 reporters dotted around the country bringing you all the action as it happens, but which way do they see the fixtures going...
SAM BISBY says...
Oldham are the first side this weekend to be given a chance to cause an upset against a side that have had their fair share of FA Cup disappointment in the past. The Latics have had a modest season so far and sit around the mid-table mark in League One, but will still be looking to put up as much resistance to the top-flight veterans.
A strong showing is expected from the Greater Manchester side, but Kenny Dalglish will no doubt place a handful of promising youngsters, as well as a few fringe players in his starting XI, with the likes of Raheem Stering and Sebastian Coates potentially mixing in with Dirk Kuyt and Jamie Carragher.
As with any underdog side, Oldham will no doubt give it their all at Anfield, but the Merseyside club have a good deal of talent and experience in their reserves that will most likely be too much for the ambitious visitors.
JOEL LAMY says...
There should be no lack of passion at St Andrew's this Saturday despite the lunchtime kick-off. Birmingham meet Wolves for the first time since the final day drama of last season where late goals from Stephen Hunt and Roman Pavlyuchenko meant the League Cup winners would spend next season in the Championship.
This was followed up by defender Roger Johnson moving to Molineux, where he has instantly become club captain, a move sure to upset some of the die-hard City fans and create a ferocious atmosphere.
Aside from that it will be interesting to see what sides are put out. Birmingham, unbeaten at home in the league, have matches to catch up on whilst Wolves, with no away win since August, are fighting for their lives.
At the end of a hard-fought game I’m expecting the home side, backed by their crowd, to nick a winner.
JAY JAFFA says...
Few people would suggest League Two Cheltenham stand a chance at high-flying Tottenham in the FA Cup on Saturday but judging the Robins' form and the second-string side Redknapp is set to name, Spurs' safe passage to the fourth round may not be as certain as fans and pundits anticipate.
Despite the exciting prospect of chancing their arm at London's top club, Cheltenham's league form has not suffered. In fact, they sit second in League two, albeit 67 league places below their hosts. Manager Mark Yates will expect his side to remain competitive at White Hart Lane, particularly following an unbeaten run of nine games.
However, it's hard to oppose Spurs even if their priorities do lie in the Premier League. Home advantage and the return to fitness of Aaron Lennon and Michael Dawson have convinced me that Tottenham will progress in a tight game.
GEORGE ANKERS says...
The FA Cup third round is always a special day among the football faithful and so there should be a particularly joyous atmosphere at Carrow Road on Saturday. The Norwich fans have been in fine, loud form all season long and have been given plenty to sing about – the visit of a Championship side in the cup should only boost their spirits. There might be an interesting song or two, too, as Burnley recently dished out a 4-0 hammering to fierce rivals Ipswich.
Reporting from this ground has been a breathless experience this term as Norwich don’t do clean sheets and neither side is in the habit of boring their fans. The Canaries have gone 38 league matches without a 0-0, but the visitors trump that with 45. More goals are surely alongside Delia’s fabulous matchday pies on the menu.
ROB STEWART says...
Alan Pardew has already etched his name in Geordie folklore thanks to the 3-0 win over Manchester United but the Toon boss would gain legendary status if he somehow inspired the club to its first major domestic silverware since 1955.
Pardew slipped up at the first hurdle at League Two side Stevenage last season in what was one of the low points of his time on Tyneside and will be desperate to make amends against a side who knocked his team out of the League Cup earlier this season at Ewood Park.
That was before Rovers manager Steve Kean decided to “forfeit” the subsequent tie at Cardiff and no-one could blame him if he adopts a similar policy and puts out a weakened side at the Sports Direct Arena because Premier League survival is his priority.
Newcastle will be without Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote due to Africa Cup of Nations commitments, but whatever happens the feel-good factor generated by the triumph over the Premier League champions should be maintained and in this the strangest of seasons, the Toon Army would be forgiven for thinking the long wait for a trophy could be over.
DAVID LYNCH says...
Everton boss David Moyes would have doubtless been relieved to see Conference strugglers Tamworth come out of the hat for the Toffees' first FA Cup tie of this season. This is about the nearest you can get to a home banker as a side who have spent longer than any other in team in the top flight take on a club whose greatest success came in lifting the FA Vase in 1989.
That said, the Merseysiders have struggled to score this season and will face a set of players perhaps more determined than any other they will have faced so far. This could lead to a frustrating period of some description for the Goodison Park outfit, but you would imagine the sheer dearth of quality in their opponents' squad should see this eventually descend into a walk in the park.
Though the memory of the heroic win pulled off by League One's Oldham Athletic, who coincidentally face Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the cup this weekend, in 2008 will be fresh in Everton minds, a similar result here would rank amongst the greatest shocks of all time.
The Staffordshire side will at least relish the opportunity to visit one of English football's most storied clubs and it is an encounter their young manager Marcus Law, whose career has thus far seen him travel the lower echelons of the national game, will be particularly looking forward to. Regardless of the result, this should be a day to remember for the 36-year-old and his players.
|West Bromwich Albion
ALEX FISHER says...
The magic of the FA Cup rolls into the Hawthorns and there is a good chance of an upset given there are only eight positions between West Brom and Cardiff despite them being a division apart.
The Baggies haven’t won any of their last three Premier League games so will be hoping the distraction of the cup can help them refind their form, and the gods may well be on their side seeing as Cardiff face Crystal Palace in the semi-final of the League Cup three days later so may not want to jeopardise a Wembley appearance by picking up injuries to crucial players.
I’m looking forward to seeing what should be a tight game. If Cardiff didn’t have a semi-final to prepare for I would be predicting an upset but as they do I expect West Brom to progress with a 2-1 win.
GREG STOBART says...
Police at the Etihad Stadium will be wearing full riot gear on Sunday - but the United defenders may want to don armour themselves after the last Manchester derby.
City destroyed their neighbours 6-1 at Old Trafford in December and the great rivalry between the clubs has gone up a couple of notches as they fight for the Premier League title.
For United, revenge is on the agenda and I'm looking forward to seeing how Sir Alex Ferguson's men respond to back-to-back defeats.
City will sense their chance to confirm a shift of power in Manchester, but I worry about how they will cope without Yaya Toure, who leaves on Saturday for the Africa Cup of Nations.
The atmosphere will be red hot in a repeat of last season's FA Cup semi-final, which City won before going on to win their first trophy in 35 years.
With bragging rights at stake and statements to be made, I expect a fiercely fought encounter that may well end with fewer than 22 men on the pitch. I'm tipping a draw that will set up a replay at Old Trafford.
JOE DOYLE says...
The FA Cup third round is traditionally a big day for the minnows of English football, but you can hardly class the visitors as that. Pompey were winners of the cup in 2008 under the reign of Harry Redknapp, and were beaten finalists in 2010 by their opponents this weekend, Chelsea.
While the Championship side have undoubtedly slipped since the FA Cup win and finishing as runners-up, they will be hopeful that the cup will throw up one of the shocks it is so famed for on Sunday.
Chelsea look set to use the game as a chance to rotate the squad and perhaps give a start to some of their younger players, with highly rated Josh McEachran likely to get minutes at some point.
I think Chelsea will have too much for Portsmouth on the day. While recent results have been shaky for the hosts, including a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa in their last home game, I think they'll handle it in a professional matter and get back to winning ways.
RYAN BENSON says...
On Sunday, Martin O’Neill and his resurgent Black Cats will travel to London Road to face Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough, who are unbeaten in their last five matches.
Peterborough’s most recent home match saw them draw 1-1 with Birmingham but were denied all three points thanks to Marlon King’s 94th minute penalty, while Sunderland have also been going strong recently.
Sunderland’s last two matches have seen them pick up wins against Manchester City and Wigan, impressive for entirely different reasons, but with the possibility of regulars being rested, the home crowd will be optimistic they can pull off a shock.
On a personal note, I am looking forward to going to my first FA Cup match, but I am also excited about being in the same room as Martin O’Neill, one my favourite managers due to his often eccentric nature.
Although Sunderland may rest a few players, I still fully expect the visitors to win, but the hosts will be in determined mood to prove me wrong.
WAYNE VEYSEY says...
It will be fascinating to see how Arsene Wenger approaches this re-run of last year's third round tie, when Arsenal required a replay at Elland Road to overcome the fallen Yorkshire giants.
The FA Cup represents the most realistic of the club's two opportunities to scratch their seven-year trophy itch, but its timing after a glut of debilitating festive fixtures mean a handful of senior players will surely be rested.
Wenger's task will be to find the right balance between youth and experience against opponents with nothing to lose and plenty to prove as a proud club take on the role of giantkillers trying to end the Frenchman's record of never losing an FA Cup tie against lower league opposition.
The Monday scheduling give Arsenal a week's break after their last-gasp defeat at Fulham but they are likely to need all their nous and superior quality to see off Simon Grayson's eighth-placed Championship side.
Tumbling out of the cup at the first opportunity would not only be an embarrassment for Arsenal, but mean that their only hope of a trophy lies in the Champions League, where seven-times winners AC Milan await them in the last-16.
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It was a poor end to 2011 for our reporters last weekend, with not a single perfect scoreline predicted by our team and only three correct guesses out of 10. That said, with upsets all round in what was a crazy round of results you can hardly blame them. Here's hoping for a much effort to kick off 2012 in style.
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