FA Cup third round: Five things to look out for this weekend

A meeting of new managers, Stam’s homecoming and a chance for Irish to impress

1) The third round of the FA Cup gets underway on Friday night as West Ham welcome Manchester City to the London Stadium.

Being played at their shiny but much maligned new ground, this fixture loses much of the allure it would have had were it to have taken place at the now partly-demolished Upton Park.

But while the Hammers’ early relationship with their new home in Stratford has been a tricky one, the visit of City could offer the perfect chance for them to really make it their own.

Last season Slaven Bilic's side took eventual winners Manchester United to a quarter-final replay, with the Boleyn Ground producing one of its last great stands in the second game despite a Marcus Rashford-inspired 2-0 defeat.

And as clichéd as it may sound, after a league campaign which continues to disappoint, a cup win over Pep Guardiola’s side could be exactly the tonic needed to kickstart West Ham’s season.

Despite seeing a 10-man City scrape past Burnley at the Etihad last Monday, Guardiola seemed rattled when speaking to the press afterwards, and he has since had to clarify comments he made which seemed to suggest he was considering retirement.

This weekend may prove a good time for West Ham to catch City, and enable them to give the London Stadium its first great night. PM

2) It’s a new year and a new transfer window with a number of Irish players possibly on the move.

This weekend’s cup action might just offer some the chance to impress against higher level opposition and force that move to a bigger club.

The clash of Norwich and Southampton brings together two of the most touted around Irish players in Robbie Brady and Shane Long.

There’s little doubt that Brady should be playing at Premier League level but the apparent £12 million price tag being placed on him is proving to be the major stumbling block.

Leicester, Burnley, Swansea and Crystal Palace are all supposedly in the hunt for the winger with Sam Allardyce this week saying he would like to bring him to Selhurst Park.

“Somebody like Robbie Brady, I would say yes. Anybody like that, if the club says they are available,” the former England manager said.

“Maybe a centre-half is something we will look at, but for the moment a left-back is our main priority. I am looking first and foremost for a left-back from this country with Premier League experience.”

On the other side of this third round tie is Shane Long who has in recent days been linked with a move to West Ham or possibly even back to West Brom.

While the third round tie is more of a chance for Brady to impress against top-flight opposition, it could also give Long the opportunity of a full 90 minutes to catch the eye of potential suitors if he does indeed want to move. RC

3) Jaap Stam’s Manchester United career ended far earlier than it should have done, but his three-season stint at with the club was a golden one.

The big Dutchman won three Premier League titles and helped United to a historic and unparalleled treble in 1999 – and on Saturday he returns to Old Trafford as the manager of Reading.

The hallmark of United’s treble winning side were the number of games won in the dying embers of a match – and Stam seems to have instilled the same attitude into his Royals side, who came from 2-0 down to beat Bristol City 3-2 in injury time last weekend.

That win has left Reading in third-place in the Championship with a game in hand on those immediately below them, and they are firmly in the mix for a play-off place at the end of the season – a stark improvement on last years’s 17th place finish.

United are currently enjoying a fine spell, having won their last seven games on the spin in impressive fashion.

However with a potentially season-defining fixture against Liverpool at Old Trafford looming on January 15th, Jose Mourinho is likely to rest a number of first team players, including the seemingly ever-present Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Reading have a stern task regardless of what side Mourinho picks on Saturday, but with a weakened United side there is an outside chance Stam's return to Old Trafford could be a happy one. PM

4) It wouldn’t be the third round of the FA Cup without the potential for a non-league team to cause an upset, a giant killing, a cup fairytale, an overuse of the ‘magic of the cup’ cliché, or whatever you’re having yourself.

This weekend there looks to be even more of a chance than usual of that happening with five non-league teams still in the competition.

None are playing Premier League opposition but one of the most romantic ties of the round looks to the clash of 14th-place National League side Sutton United taking on former giant-killers AFC Wimbledon after United beat Tim Sherwood’s Swindon in a second round replay.

Back in the days of the Crazy Gang, Plough Lane and then Selhurst Park were fearsome places to go in the cup before the club sadly went out of existence.

There’s a nice symmetry to this clash in that AFC’s first game after reforming was a 4-0 friendly loss to Sutton.

With that in mind it’s a mark of how far the phoenix club has come that a loss to Sutton in front of a capacity crowd of 5,000 at Gander Green Lane on Saturday would be seen as a big upset.

Elsewhere Barrow take on Rochdale, Eastleigh – who brough Bolton all the way to a replay at this stage last year – travel to Brentford, Lincoln take on Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich at Portman Road and Stourbridge play Wycombe away.

Stourbridge in fact represent the most remarkable tale at this stage as they currently sit seventh in the Northern Premier League, a full two divisions below the National League in which the other four non-league teams ply their trade.

Opponents Wycombe are a long way from high-fliers at fifth in League Two, and yet they still sit a full 74 places ahead of the Glassboys.

And think about it this way: if Stourbridge were to beat Wycombe and then draw Premier League leaders Chelsea in the fourth round there would be a whopping 146 places between the two teams.

Now that would be an FA Cup fairytale. RC

5) When Hull City were drawn to face Swansea in the third round it hardly appeared a fixture to get the juices flowing.

With both sides firmly stuck in the Premier League’s bottom three, it seemed likely the cup would take a backseat with survival the priority.

However in the past weeks both clubs have fired their managers, with new men now in in charge.

American Bob Bradley's tenure at the Liberty Stadium lasted just 85 days, and he has been replaced by Paul Clement, who was poached from his role as Carlo Ancelotti's assistant at Bayern Munich.

Meanwhile on Humberside Mike Phelan has been replaced by Marco Silva, who guided Olympiakos to a 43rd Greek title last season.

The two appointments give a new dimension to Saturday's fixture – which now rather than presenting an unwanted distraction offers both managers the chance to start off on the right foot, and build momentum ahead of what promises to be a very difficult few months. PM

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke is a sports journalist with The Irish Times