The FA Cup is always a fun diversion from the Premier League schedule. It’s a competition that any team in England (and Wales) can win, and it sometimes serves up some matches not often seen.
In January 2013, Luton Town, playing in the fifth tier of the pyramid of what is now known as the Vanarama National League, won 1-0 away at Premier League side Norwich. It was a “giant killing,” and those upsets are what make the tournament fun.
It’s also an event that challenges teams in other ways. If a side is battling relegation, or on the other side of the coin, chasing a league or European title, these cup games can be a good time to run out reserves and youth players.
Round three, which begins later today when West Ham hosts Manchester City, is the point in the tournament when the Premier League sides enter the fray.
Here’s a look at the games available on TV, and a few contests with interesting story lines:
(All times Eastern)
West Ham vs. Manchester City, FS1, 3 p.m.
Manchester United vs. Reading, FS1, 7:30 a.m.
Sutton United vs. Wimbledon, FS1, 10 a.m.
Barrow vs. Rochdale, FS2, 10 a.m.
Liverpool vs. Plymouth, FS1, 8:30 a.m.
Chelsea vs. Peterborough, FS2, 9:50 a.m.
Tottenham vs. Aston Villa, FS1, 11 a.m.
Cambridge United vs. Leeds United, FS2, 2:45 p.m.
5 to watch
Manchester United vs. Reading — Reading manager Jaap Stam played 127 games at center half for Manchester United, and was a member of the 1999 treble winning side. He’ll be hoping to guide his Championship side past his former team at Old Trafford.
“It’s going to be a difficult one — they’ve got a lot of quality and they’re one of the biggest teams in the world,” Stam said. “To play against them in front of 80,000 fans at Old Trafford, it will be a great adventure for the fans, a lot of players and myself as well. You need to enjoy it but you enjoy it even more if you get a result. We need to give it our best shot and work very hard. I’m sure we can do well against them but it’s not going to be easy.”
Jose Mourinho’s team will probably try to rest a few first-team players, but make no mistake, winning a trophy is always high on the agenda for “The Special One.” Wayne Rooney could make his return from a thigh injury if Mourinho decides to shuffle the deck a bit.
Everton vs. Leicester City — One of the all-Premier League ties on the schedule features teams in very different situations. Everton, sitting seventh in the league table, has on eye on the race for Europe next season.
Leicester, the defending champions, are already there. The Foxes will face Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 next month, but before then, must deal with the African Cup of Nations-fueled departures of Islam Slimani, Riyad Mahrez and Daniel Amartey.
Jamie Vardy is eligible after serving a suspension for a red card, while new signing Wilfred Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater could feature as well.
The Toffees will be without Idrissa Gueye, who’s away with Senegal. James McCarthy, Maarten Stekelenburg and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will also miss out.
Chelsea vs. Peterborough — Chelsea had its 13-match winning streak snapped on Wednesday, so the Blues could be in a foul mood when the League One side visits Stamford Bridge.
There could be a few changes to Antonio Conte’s lineup for this one, but since he’s probably heard about Chelsea’s shocking loss to Bradford City in the 2014-2015 FA Cup, it seems unlikely that the London giants will be caught napping again.
Barrow vs. Rochdale — Barrow, which plays in the fifth tier, has never been beyond the third round of this competition. But the Bluebirds have the chance to do just that when they host League One Rochdale.
This match is fun, if for no other reason than one of these teams will be in the draw for the fourth round.
Wycombe Wanderers vs. Stourbridge — Stourbridge plays in the Northern Premier League, which is the sixth tier on the pyramid. The Glassboys are the lowest level team left in the FA Cup, and they are hiding from the big stage.
“It’s going to be the biggest game in the history of the football club, there’s no doubt about it,” manager Gary Hackett said. “We have a very proud history, but to be competing in the third round, even to be in the draw with the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, it’s a very proud day.”