The FA Cup’s third round returns this weekend in one of the most eagerly anticipated dates on the football calendar.
The lower league sides to have progressed this far can now meet top-flight opposition and the third round draw has produced some fascinating ties, from classic David and Goliath encounters to all-Premier League clashes.
Ahead of this weekend’s action we’ve picked out five of the most intriguing FA Cup third round ties.
Chelsea v Chesterfield
Non-league Chesterfield have been handed a dream draw with a trip to face the European champions at Stamford Bridge, more than 90 places separating the two sides in English football’s pyramid at present.
Chesterfield have enjoyed an impressive season so far and are the current National League leaders, having lost just one of their opening 20 league fixtures of the campaign as the club look to secure promotion and a return to the Football League.
Q | Can Chesterfield get a result tomorrow?
🗣️𝗥𝗼𝘄𝗲: "Of course, if I didn't think there was any chance of us getting something I wouldn't bother getting on the coach. You always have to believe."
— Chesterfield FC (@ChesterfieldFC) January 7, 2022
It would represent a seismic shock were The Spireites to stun Chelsea this weekend, however, with the latter boasting one of the deepest squads in Europe and seemingly over their recent blip after strong performances against Liverpool and Tottenham.
Chesterfield will recall tales of their famous FA Cup run as a third-tier side in 1997, in which the club reached the semi-finals before defeat to Middlesbrough in a replay. The first fixture remains a contentious cup classic following a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford and James Rowe will be hoping his side – unbeaten in 14 games – can recreate the old magic.
Kidderminster Harriers v Reading
Kidderminster Harriers are the lowest-ranked side remaining in the competition, sitting fifth in the National League North ahead of their meeting with Championship side Reading.
Reading’s priorities are elsewhere at present as The Royals seek survival in the second tier and the struggling side could be there for the taking in front of a capacity crowd at Aggborough Stadium.
🏆📊 𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝓡𝓾𝓷 𝓢𝓸 𝓕𝓪𝓻 𝓘𝓷 𝓝𝓾𝓶𝓫𝓮𝓻𝓼
— Kidderminster Harriers 🦅 (@khfcofficial) January 6, 2022
Veljko Paunovic has already indicated his intention to heavily rotate his options for the clash, providing Kidderminster with a chance to snatch an upset win and progress further in the competition.
Having been pushing for promotion to the Football League in the not-so-distant past, the prospect of a money-spinning tie in the next round could boost a Kiddy side that has endured a steady decline in recent campaigns.
Swindon Town v Manchester City
Swindon Town face the most daunting challenge in English football this weekend when the League Two promotion hopefuls take on Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side arrive at the County Ground in formidable form, having won 11 consecutive Premier League fixtures to open up a 10-point advantage at the top of the division.
Six months ago we were on the brink of oblivion.
Nobody gave us a chance.
Now we're here, about to take on the best of the best.
Time to lay it all on the line and give it our best shot, and who knows what might happen.
— Swindon Town FC (@Official_STFC) January 7, 2022
Guardiola has paid respect to the cup competitions during his time in England and with a squad boasting huge depth and talent he has enough resources to make this trip to the fourth-tier outfit a comfortable one.
Swindon bounced back from a four-game winless run to thrash Northampton 5-2 last time out and will hope to take confidence from that result into the clash, though will be without goalkeeper Joe Wollacott who has been called up to the Ghana squad for the AFCON.
Guardiola could hand some of City’s brightest prospects a chance to impress with Cole Palmer and James McAtee amongst those who will be hoping to start.
Manchester United v Aston Villa
The all-Premier League clashes often earn groans from supporters during the FA Cup draw, even more so when the games are predictably scheduled for the television slots.
Manchester United will once again be televised when the Red Devils take on Aston Villa at Old Trafford, with the unrest at the club having reached new levels following leaked media reports and speculation surrounding an unhappiness with the interim manager’s tactics.
Steven Gerrard will revel in the chance to add to the problems at United this weekend, the former Liverpool captain set to lead a Villa side who will harbour outside ambitions of making an impression in the competition.
Both teams should view the FA Cup as a realistic chance to win silverware this season and it will be interesting to see the strengths of their respective line-ups. United are approaching five years without a major trophy, the club’s longest drought in over three decades.
Villa – buoyed by the eye-catching loan signing of Philippe Coutinho this week – have not won the FA Cup since 1957 and are without a trophy of any kind since the mid-nineties, but will head to Old Trafford in optimistic mood.
Liverpool v Shrewsbury Town
Steve Cotterill knows a thing or two about upsetting Liverpool in the FA Cup, having been in charge of the Burnley side that dumped out the Reds in 2005 – a clash remembered for a comical own goal from Djimi Traore.
Cotterill will take third-tier Shrewsbury to Anfield this weekend with the current situation at Liverpool raising the prospect of a classic cup upset.
Jurgen Klopp’s side saw their fixture with Arsenal postponed in midweek as a result of rising Covid-19 cases, whilst their options have also been depleted by the departures of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita for AFCON duty.
🚨 NEW: Liverpool have been told they must play their FA Cup match against Shrewsbury Town at Anfield on Sunday. All 20 Premier League clubs have been told by the FA that they must play their third round ties this weekend. #awlive [mail] pic.twitter.com/XyBOp3VMP2
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) January 6, 2022
Add in the expected festive period injuries and it is set to be an inexperienced Liverpool side that takes to the field on Sunday afternoon. Klopp memorably opted to field the Reds’ youngest ever XI during a 1-0 FA Cup win at Shrewsbury in 2020, with Neil Critchley in charge of the side after the fixture was scheduled amidst the Premier League’s inaugural winter break.
Liverpool have not progressed past the fifth round in any season under Klopp’s management with the German having rarely prioritised cup competition. That stance and a long list of absentees will have increased confidence in the ranks of their lower league opponents.