Who’s up for the Cup? Things to look forward to may be thin on the ground at the moment but the return of the world’s greatest cup competition – there, I said it! – warms the hearts of football fans every January and, in that respect, this year is no different.
Last season, Arsenal beat Chelsea in the final to lift the Cup for a record 14th time. The Gunners are 14.5 to retain the Cup and start with an all top flight tie away to Newcastle on Saturday.
Arsenal knocked out holders Manchester City in last season’s semi-final but Pep Guardiola’s team are the favourites to win the competition this season. They can be backed at 4.94/1.
City appear to be finding form at just the right time and it would be a big shock if they didn’t sweep aside Birmingham City in their third round tie on Sunday.
Mind you, stranger things have happened in this competition – think of Wrexham beating Arsenal in 1992 – and that upsets are what the Cup is all about.
The third round kicks off on Friday night when Aston Villa host Liverpool. The hosts tonked the Premier League champions 7-2 earlier this season so expect Jurgen Klopp’s men to be out for revenge. They’re odds-against favourites for the win and much could depend on what side the German sends out.
It’s 15 years since Liverpool 10.09/1 won the FA Cup – the longest they’ve gone without it since the Second World War – and you’d think Klopp would love to add it to his trophy haul.
Jose Mourinho always covets cup competitions and his Tottenham side can backed at 9.28/1 for this one. They go to non-league Marine FC on Sunday, a game where the hosts are 70.069/1 on the Exchange to win.
Chelsea are available at the same price to lift the Cup but, with Frank Lampard’s job on the line following a poor run in the League, that’s a brave bet. Still, the Blues should have too much for Morcambe at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
Then there’s Manchester United who are 10.09/1 to win the Cup for the first time in five years. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side reached the semi-finals last season and he be delighted to join the likes of Arteta, Kenny Dalglish and Terry Venables on the list of men who won this competition as a player and a manager.
United begin with a home tie against Watford on Saturday.
This just a quick look at the leading candidates in the outright winner market but there will be surprises and a team from outside the group mentioned above will probably force their way into contention. The road to Wembley, after all, is paved with great stories.
Later this week we’ll have previews of all the key third round matches.