Friday, January 5, 2024

FA Cup

The Premier League clubs join in on the competition as the third round of the FA Cup is played this weekend. The headline entrée on the menu is a Sunday rematch between Arsenal and Liverpool. The clubs drew their league match 1-1 just two weeks ago. This time, however, the match is at the Emirates and Mohamed Salah is unavailable due to the Africa Cup of Nations. There is still speculation as to how Jurgen Klopp will fill the vacuum created by the absence of the club’s and, arguably the Premier League’s, best player. An outside the box possibility is to play midfielder Dominic Szoboszlai on the wing, a position he has played for his native Hungary. Struggling Arsenal, winner of just one of its last five league matches, has won the FA Cup 14 times, more than any other club.

All twenty Premier League sides are in tournament action which began with Thursday’s goalless draw between Crystal Palace and Everton, a match that will need to be replayed under the tournament’s odd format. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was red carded in the 79th minute for the Toffees as the game crept towards its goalless conclusion. Palace was forced to play without Michael Olise who once again injured his hamstring in the club’s last Premier League win. A June hamstring injury while on international duty kept Olise out until November. Two goals in his last league match had once again stoked transfer interest from other clubs in the talented yet injury prone winger.

Brentford will host Wolverhampton on Friday in a rematch of their December 27th Premier League match which saw Wolves destroy the Bees 4-1. Also on Friday, Tottenham Hotspur plays host to Burnley in another all Premier League matchup.

Saturday features a traditional northeast England rivalry when Newcastle visits the Stadium of Light to face the Black Cats of Sunderland. Controversy erupted this week over signage placed in one of the stadium’s bars featuring slogans of hated Newcastle. While the bar will function as a hospitality suite for Newcastle away supporters, Sunderland fans protested strongly at the desecration of their home venue and the signage was removed. The club issued a public apology to Black Cat supporters.

A third major footballing club from the Northeast is in action Saturday when Middlesbrough hosts the Premier League’s current second place club Aston Villa. Middlesbrough, managed by former Manchester United player Michael Carrick, has already advanced to the quarterfinal of the English League Cup this season, though their league form in the Championship has been tepid at best.

Defending FA Cup champion Manchester City faces Huddersfield on Sunday. The mismatch versus Huddersfield, relegation threatened in the Championship, could see Kevin De Bruyne return for the Citizens. Less likely to see game time are Erling Haaland and Jeremy Doku, who both returned to full training this past week as the treble winners frighteningly move closer to full strength.

Manchester United concludes the third round with a relatively short trip to Manchester County based Wigan on Monday. The Red Devils have won 18 of 19 matches against their opponent though it should be noted that, since its 2014 relegation from the Premier League, Wigan has won more FA Cup ties versus topflight opposition than any other English club. Premier League matches resume on Saturday January 13th. 

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