Business is about to pick up in the FA Cup.
The third round of the oldest knockout tournament in soccer kicks off this weekend with all 20 teams in the Premier League entering the fray.
Aside from a few marquee contests pitting Premier League clubs against one another, there are a number of matchups featuring topflight teams taking on sides from the lower leagues, tapping into the competition’s rich history of upsets.
Here are a few things to look out for in this round….
Arsenal begins quest for three-peat
Arsenal is involved in one of the five all-Premier League encounters in this round—the Gunners begin their campaign for an FA Cup three-peat on Saturday when they host Sunderland.
No team has won three consecutive FA Cups since Blackburn turned the trick from 1884-86. No, that’s not a misprint: The last time a team won three FA Cups in a row was over 100 years ago.
Arsenal returns to action in the Premier League next Wednesday away to Liverpool, so look for manager Arsene Wenger to rotate his squad (more on the rotation theme later in this piece) for this tilt against the Black Cats.
Klopp makes FA Cup debut
A number of managers will be making their FA Cup debuts this weekend, including Remi Garde of Aston Villa and Quique Sánchez Flores of Watford.
The most notable of tournament newbies, though, is Jurgen Klopp—the German will make his FA Cup bow on Friday when Liverpool visits Exeter City.
On paper, it’s a mismatch as Exeter City plays in League Two (the fourth tier of English soccer). But Liverpool is in the middle of a grueling stretch—Friday’s game will be its sixth in 19 days—and Klopp will be without a number of injured stars, including Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
Leicester City-Tottenhan double dip
Leicester and Tottenham will soon grow sick of each other.
Spurs host the Foxes in the FA Cup on Sunday and then the two sides will meet again next Wednesday at White Hart Lane in Premier League action.
Jamie Vardy is nursing an injury, so look for Leicester to give their top scorer the day off on Sunday in hopes of having him available for next week’s Premier League tilt.
Hurray for Eastleigh!
Keep an eye out for Eastleigh, who host Championship side Bolton on Saturday.
Eastleigh is the only non-league team remaining in the FA Cup, and they have never made it this far in the tournament in their 70-year history.
Coached by former Swansea City defender Chris Todd, the Spitfires are catching Bolton at the right time—the Trotters are dead last in the Championship and morale is pretty low as the club has struggled to pay its players this season. Could we see David slay Goliath?
Rotation, rotation, rotation
As always, Premier League teams are expected to rotate their squads and field less-than-full-strength sides—and really, you can hardly blame them after a busy holiday schedule of fixtures, and two league games next week.
Liverpool’s FA Cup match against Exeter City on Friday comes just three days after the Reds played Stoke City in the first leg of its League Cup semifinal. Look for Klopp to make wholesale line-up changes.
“It will be a team that hasn’t played too often together,” Klopp admitted. “If this is a chance for Exeter, then they have to take it.”
FA CUP THIRD ROUND ON SPORTSNET
Friday, January 8, 2016
• Exeter City vs. Liverpool, 2:55 p.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
Saturday, January 9, 2016
• Wycombe Wanderers vs. Aston Villa, 7:45 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
• Arsenal vs. Sunderland, 10:00 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
• Eastleigh vs. Bolton, 10:00 a.m. ET (online on Sportsnet World NOW)
• Doncaster Rovers vs. Stoke City, 10:00 a.m. ET (online on Sportsnet World NOW)
• Manchester United vs. Sheffield United, 12:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
Sunday, January 10, 2016
• Oxford United vs. Swansea City, 7:00 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
• Chelsea vs. Scunthorpe, 9:00 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)
• Tottenham vs. Leicester City, 11:00 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)