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Top Five FA Cup games to watch this week

Premier League fans must wait until mid-January for the division’s return to action, but football never rests in England as the upcoming weekend brings the third round of the FA Cup.

For top-flight tenants, including reigning holders Manchester City, this is the start of the journey as we look at the five matches you should keep an eye on over the next two days. 

Sunderland vs Newcastle United

It’s been almost eight years since fierce England’s North East rivals Sunderland and Newcastle last met, but they’re about to renew hostilities in FA Cup live action.

Stadium of Light sets the stage for a potentially season-defining fixture for under-pressure Magpies manager Eddie Howe. 

Anything other than victory could prove detrimental to his future at St James’ Park, irrespective of his popularity among the Newcastle faithful. 

While a long-standing injury crisis provides a decent excuse, Howe can’t justify his side’s dreadful run of form after losing seven of their last eight games in all competitions. 

Chelsea vs Preston North End

Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino is familiar with pressure, but after racking up four wins in the last five outings, the Argentine feels far more comfortable than a month ago. 

Preston’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday is a seemingly presentable opportunity for the Blues to consolidate their return to form and make the first step towards winning their first FA Cup title since 2018.

Undefeated in their last six matches on home turf (W5, D1), the resurgent West London giants are in a perfect position to maintain their 100% win ratio against the Lilywhites.

Both previous wins came in the FA Cup and yielded a two-goal margin, suggesting this could be a pleasant weekend for the Chelsea fanbase. 

Manchester City vs Huddersfield Town 

Man City’s title defence gets underway at the Etihad Stadium against Championship underachievers Huddersfield. 

Pep Guardiola’s side enjoyed a memorable 2023, winning a coveted treble in 2022/23 before lifting their maiden FIFA Club World Cup in December. 

Kicking off 2024 in a similar vein is the bare minimum the Spaniard would expect from his free-firing squad, which capped off 2023 on a four-game winning streak.

City’s formidable form paints a bleak picture for visiting Huddersfield, who started the new calendar year with a disastrous 4-1 defeat to second-tier pacesetters Leicester City.

The Terriers’ porous backline has conceded 3+ goals on eight occasions in 2023/24, indicating Man City’s free-flowing attack could have a field day. 

Arsenal vs Liverpool 

Connoisseurs of action-packed football will hope Arsenal and Liverpool can both score in a fourth consecutive meeting as the Emirates Stadium forms the backdrop for the most exciting round-three tie. 

Despite winning their last three FA Cup encounters against the Reds and boasting an outright record of 14 titles, Mikel Arteta’s men come into proceedings on the back foot.

Back-to-back defeats in the Premier League London derbies at the tail-end of 2023 inflicted massive damage on Arsenal’s pursuit of their first top-flight title in two decades.

In stark contrast to Arsenal’s downfall, Jurgen Klopp’s high-flyers have gone from strength to strength, racking up a five-game unbeaten run in the build-up (W3, D2).

Liverpool enjoyed a dream start to 2024, beating injury-ravaged Newcastle 4-2 at Anfield in a match that saw them generate an insane 7.2 xG. 

Wigan vs Manchester United 

Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag can ill-afford another slip-up after losing significant ground on the Premier League top four in December. 

The stakes are at an all-time high for the Dutchman as he stares down the barrel of dismissal. 

League One outfit Wigan Athletic could put the final nail in his coffin as United boss, with the home side reaching this tie after beating Exeter and York without conceding.

DW Stadium has been a happy hunting ground for the Red Devils as they’ve won seven of their eight visits to this venue in the 21st century. 

But since their most recent competitive trip to Wigan dates back to 2013, United’s impressive track means next to nothing. 

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