Sky Sports expert Charlie Nicholas calls the results of some of the big FA Cup third-round matches, backing the Premier League’s top six all to avoid upsets.
Of the sides occupying the top six spots in the Premier League, Manchester City perhaps face the toughest task as they travel to West Ham on Friday night.
Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all face lower-league opposition and here’s what Charlie is predicting for those games – plus other potential upsets.
West Ham v Manchester City
It’s always tough to know what sort of teams are going to turn out in the FA Cup, which makes it harder to make a prediction.
We don’t know how highly Pep Guardiola will prioritise the FA Cup, but he’ll need to make a few changes after getting his first taste of a busy festive period in England. I’d expect to see Nolito come in along with Leroy Sane, if he’s fit.
West Ham have taken a step back again after starting to move forward, although they’ll certainly be aggrieved by the nature of their loss to Manchester United. Slaven Billic is the right man to get them back on track in the long term.
I see them suffering another blow here, and I’m going for a repeat of the scoreline we saw when they met in the Premier League at the Etihad.
Manchester United v Reading
Jaap Stam has turned Reading into a good football side. They had a brilliant comeback against Bristol City so they’ll be full of confidence that they can defy the odds here.
The former United man clearly has an authority, which isn’t guaranteed just because you were a top player, and they’re a good passing team and will certainly give United a good game.
However, when Jose Mourinho’s sides get going they’re very tough to stop. He’s firing shots at players and getting responses, as we saw with Anthony Martial being a man of the match against Middlesbrough and Marcus Rashford improving as well.
I think he will rest Zlatan Ibrahimovic and give a start to Wayne Rooney, who would love to win this competition in what I think will be his final season at Old Trafford.
Charlie predicts: 3-1 and Rashford to score first (25/1 with Sky Bet)
Preston v Arsenal
Arsenal were useless against Bournemouth the other night. I took no pleasure in them coming from three behind and I’m starting to get confused by them again.
Alexis Sanchez is throwing tantrums because he was doing brilliantly before Olivier Giroud came in. Yes, Giroud is scoring goals but what else does he do? Sanchez was doing that and far more.
Saying that, Sanchez is a top-class player but he’s got no divine right to just stand out wide and expect everybody to pass to him. I don’t know what is going on with him – I think he needs telling and if he doesn’t change he needs selling. This team has helped make him a star and he needs to show some appreciation rather than throwing tantrums.
I’d expect Theo Walcott to come back in for Sanchez but I wouldn’t think Arsene Wenger will make wholesale changes. Arsenal need to go for the FA Cup as there might not be anything left for them.
Charlie predicts: 1-3 and Walcott to score first (40/1 with Sky Bet)
Liverpool v Plymouth
I don’t like to say it, but it is a nice pay day for Derek Adams’ team and not very much else.
Liverpool will make plenty of changes and give a few youngsters a chance and, without showing any disrespect, they’ve got enough quality to come in and still make this a comfortable day.
I actually fancy a hat-trick in this one and I’m backing Divock Origi to get one. He was in good form before being dropped and will be desperate to prove his point.
Charlie predicts: 4-0 and Origi to score first (40/1 with Sky Bet)
Chelsea v Peterborough
I don’t see problems flaring up at Chelsea after the Tottenham loss and we’ll see that the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry will all be ready to come in and perform.
Peterborough are a team who can score a few goals in their league but they’ve been really disappointing in recent weeks and I see it being a long afternoon for them.
I’d look at somebody like Willian to produce and prove why he should be starting ahead of Pedro.
Charlie predicts: 5-0 and Willian to score first 45/1 with Sky Bet)
Tottenham v Aston Villa
Mauricio Pochettino will make plenty of changes but I don’t see an upset here either. Steve Bruce isn’t an indecisive man and he won’t expect anything here.
Vincent Janssen and Kevin Wimmer will come in and the full-backs will change. I’d be amazed if Spurs don’t make at least eight changes.
I’ve got a strong feeling that Villa will make the play-offs and, while they might want to maintain momentum, it’s a tremendously punishing division and Bruce will give a couple of players opportunities as well.
Charlie predicts: 3-0 and Vincent Jansen to score first (18/1 with Sky Bet)
Stoke never seem to get it right so I wouldn’t be surprised if Wolves (9/2) went there and caused an upset. I also don’t think it would be a major upset if Norwich (12/5) took Southampton out, especially with Alex Neil fighting for his job there and the Saints having a Capital One Cup semi-final on Wednesday. Derby (18/5) putting West Brom out wouldn’t be a big shock either.
Beyond the games involving Premier League teams, I actually fancy Barrow (11/4) to beat Rochdale. I know they got well beat last week but they were on a real good run, especially with being at home being such a leveller at that level. Fleetwood (17/4) at Bristol City is another one I like in terms of value for money.