Ah, the great leveller of the FA Cup. A chance for the minnows of the beautiful game to plant a well-guided knee in the nuts to the foreign blouses of the Premier League.
‘They don’t like it up ’em,’ is the familiar cry of lower league supporters and salivating chairmen with one eye on the TV revenue and another on the gate receipts which should bring in enough booty to get the toilets fixed.
But the reality of the world’s oldest club competition is a little different from the romanticism that surrounds it and West Ham’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in the 1980 Cup Final made them the last side from outside the top tier to win it.
While there will be shocks along the way, we’re backing these six Premier League sides to beat lower-level opposition this weekend in a 20/1 accumulator as the FA Cup proper kicks off.
Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa, Saturday 12.45pm
A New Year and a new way for Aston Villa to prove how crap they really are with what will be called a ‘tricky’ away trip to Wycombe Wanderers who sit 10 places above Exeter in League Two.
But at the prices the non-hand-shaking Remi Garde’s side are worth the risk. The Villains were FA Cup finalists last season (eventually losing 4-0 to back-to-back winners Arsenal) despite Tim Sherwood being in charge and need every straw they can clutch at to ignite their season. While we’re not going down the road of a ‘good Cup run is just what they need, Gary’ the Midlanders should have enough nous to pass this test.
West Ham v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Saturday, 3pm
A shaky start to Slaven Bilic’s (above) reign as Hammers’ boss saw them lose their first two home games to Leicester and Bournemouth – but they haven’t been beaten there since in the Premier League.
The high-flying Hammers have been moving through the gears nicely in recent weeks with successive wins over Southampton and Liverpool. While Kenny Jackett’s side took nine points from three games over Christmas in the Championship they’ve haven’t been beyond the Round 3 of the FA Cup since they were relegated from the Premier League after the 2010/11 season.
West Brom v Bristol City, Saturday, 3pm
The Baggies have seen off Newcastle and Stoke in their last two top-flight games at Fortress Britannia and a repeat of that should be enough to combat the Robins who have conceded nine goals (Derby 4-0, Burnley 4-0 and a last-gasp 1-0 defeat to Reading at the weekend) in their last three games on the road.
Expect a bigger shock than an episode of Jeremy Kyle if the Championship strugglers dump Tony Pulis’s side out on Saturday.
Manchester United v Sheffield Utd, Saturday, 5.30pm
Airport booking for Mr van Gaal? Manchester’s cabbies will be queuing up if United get turned over.
Despite their woes under the eccentric Dutchman the recent loss 2-1 home loss to Norwich was their first league defeat in 10 home league games this season. Wayne Rooney (who is still shy an FA Cup winner’s medal) and Anthony Martial ended a goal-less streak in the 2-1 win over Swansea last weekend and you’d expect the rest of their expensive misfits to prise open the Blades’ defence at least once over the 90 minutes.
United beat Sheffield United in their last two FA Cup encounters and did the double over them when they last met in the 2006/07 Premier League season. With their season in danger of sinking faster than Aston Villa’s survival hopes, LVG will be desperate to avoid a David Moyes-like third-round exit (2014 v Swansea) and his own exit, for the the 11-time FA Cup winners.
Oxford Utd v Swansea City, Sunday, Noon
The bad news for Swansea fans is that their trip to Oxford is the third time in four seasons that the short-passing Swans have begun their FA Cup campaign on the road. Boooo!
But the good news for the Welsh side is that only a 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal has interrupted their 100 per cent strike rate on the road with wins over Barnsley (4-2 in 2012), a 2-1 away win over Man United (2014) and last season’s 6-2 rout of Tranmere Rovers in that time.
Oxford’s build up to Sunday’s tie is a little patchier. They didn’t make Round 3 last year and were dumped out at home by Charlton in 2014. Stick with the Swans.
Chelsea v Scunthorpe, Sunday, 2pm
Surely Guus Hiddink’s (above) Chelsea won’t spoil the party against the ‘Iron’ after winning their last three third-round matches against lower league teams in Watford, Derby and Portsmouth?
While the Blues did suffer one of the greatest FA Cup shocks of all time when turning a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 defeat in a fourth-round tie at home to Bradford last season, the Dutchman guided the club to an FA Cup win in 2009 and looks to have healed a few wounds after Jose Mourinho was shown the door last month.
Two wins and two draws in their last four games has steadied the ship at Stamford Bridge ahead of what should be a formality against the side who sit 15th in League One.