The FA Cup third round is upon us, with Premier League and Championship teams now involved. George Pitts looks for value and potential upsets.
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Fulham v Aston Villa
- 1501 GMT kick-off
They may be in separate divisions, but just seven places separate these two sides, which shows just how contrastingly their seasons are going.
Villa, who also have the distraction of a Carabao Cup semi-final later this month, are fighting for their lives in the Premier League after a disappointing first half of the season.
Dean Smith's side have boosted their survival hopes with two wins in their last three, moving out of the relegation zone by a point. After a busy festive period, you could easily see Villa being much changed and, with injury problems of their own, and you could also see them coming unstuck here.
How they would love a centre forward like Aleksandar Mitrovic in the second half of the season. The Serbian could be key for the hosts.
Scott Parker's side have lost just one of their last four and momentum will be key for their play-off hopes with so many sides pushing the top six. At odds-against, they could be worth considering.
Best bet: Fulham to win at 6/5
- Fulham and Aston Villa last met in the FA Cup in January 1999, with the Cottagers winning 2-0 at Villa Park as a third-tier side.
- This is the first meeting between Fulham and Aston Villa since the 2018 Championship play-off final, a 1-0 win for Fulham at Wembley.
- Fulham have been eliminated at the FA Cup third round stage in three of the last four seasons, having reached the fourth round in the seven seasons prior to that.
- Since reaching the 2016 FA Cup final, Aston Villa have progressed from just one of their five FA Cup ties, beating League Two side Wycombe Wanderers in January 2016.
- Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has only reached the fourth round once previously in eight previous campaigns as a manager, doing so in 2016-17 with Brentford. He has lost his last three FA Cup games by an aggregate score of 8-0.
Southampton v Huddersfield
- 1501 GMT kick-off
Danny Cowley has collected seven wins and six draws since coming in as Huddersfield boss in September to steer them out of the relegation zone.
The former Lincoln boss has history of pulling off giant killings, with wins over Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley in 2016/17 when his side were in the National League. They reached the quarter-finals of this competition, even keeping Arsenal out for 45 minutes at the Emirates before the Gunners' quality eventually showed in the second half of a 5-0 win.
Huddersfield travel to a Southampton side whose league form has improved to take them up to 12th, but rotation could easily disrupt their flow and seeing them crash out here would be no great surprise.
In our exclusive chat with the 41-year-old in November, Cowley told us how they split the game into segments against these bigger sides in order to nullify the opposition. They are a tempting 13/2 to win but goals have proved be an issue for the Terriers which is why we will avoid that one.
But with the segmented approach in mind, backing a half-time draw at around 7/5 looks well worth considering - or a draw at 30 minutes at just under evens. Huddersfield will be no pushovers.
Best bet: Half-time draw at 7/5
- This will be the first ever FA Cup meeting between Southampton and Huddersfield Town, both of whom are winners of the competition in the past – Saints in 1976 and the Terriers in 1922.
- Southampton are unbeaten in their last five matches against Huddersfield (W2 D3) since losing 0-2 in October 2010 in a League One meeting.
- Southampton haven’t been eliminated in the FA Cup third round in consecutive seasons since a run of three in a row between 1996-97 and 1998-99.
- Huddersfield Town are winless in 11 away FA Cup matches against top-flight opponents (D2 L9) since a 2-1 win at Chelsea in January 1964.
- In domestic cup competitions (FA/League Cup), Huddersfield have been eliminated from their last eight ties against Premier League sides since winning 2-1 against Birmingham at the John Smith’s Stadium in January 2008 in the FA Cup.
Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday
- 1501 GMT kick-off
Graham Potter's Brighton are currently just four points above the Premier League drop zone and, while they should be fine come May, you cannot rule them out of a relegation battle.
Therefore, this is another game where priorities could become clear. While Brighton enjoyed a run to the semi-finals under Chris Hughton, it remains to be seen how strongly they will go for this and Garry Monk will be looking for a reaction from his Owls side after three consecutive defeats over the festive period, dropping them to seventh in the Sky Bet Championship.
Goals have been an issue for Wednesday in recent games, with defender Tom Lees netting two of their last three (the other being from the penalty spot). But, with the Seagulls likely to hand some fringe players opportunities, the visitors could at least earn a replay so backing them on a +1 handicap at odds-against price is worth considering.
Their 12-goal top scorer is Steven Fletcher, who made his first appearance since mid-December on New Year's Day against Hull. This is a great chance for him to regain fitness and in that recent second-half cameo he hit the woodwork.
Wednesday can at least score at the Amex and Scottish international Fletcher, who averages nearly three shots per game this term, is an appealing 13/5 to find the back of the net anytime.
Best bet: Steven Fletcher to score anytime at 13/5
- Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday haven’t faced in the FA Cup since the 1982-83 semi-final, with the Seagulls winning 2-1 to reach the final.
- Sheffield Wednesday have lost their last two matches against Brighton, losing both meetings in the 2016-17 Championship season under Carlos Carvalhal.
- Brighton have lost just two of their last 18 home FA Cup matches (W10 D6 L2) and are unbeaten in five since losing 3-2 to Arsenal in January 2015.
- Sheffield Wednesday are winless in 20 FA Cup matches against Premier League opponents (D6 L14) since winning 2-1 against Sheffield United in the 1992-93 semi-final.
- This will be Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk’s seventh FA Cup match as manager – the previous six have also been away from home, winning two and losing four.
Brentford v Stoke
- 1501 kick-off
An intriguing all-Championship tie at Griffin Park, where Stoke are likely overpriced at 4/1 to win - staggering price for two sides in the same division, which has proven to be incredibly unpredictable week by week.
Potters boss Michael O'Neill hopes his side have turned a corner and can start the year afresh after a difficult 2019. They impressively hit five past Huddersfield in their New Year's Day win - the fifth of his tenure to take Stoke out of the bottom three.
Brentford, meanwhile, are third in the league having lost just one of their last six but they are indeed beatable. They lost at home to Huddersfield, another side scrapping near the bottom, in November and were beaten at Millwall last weekend.
With Thomas Frank's side firmly focused on staying in the top six and Stoke looking to keep the feel-good factor going, the visitors are worth considering - particularly in the draw no bet market at 5/2.
Best bet: Stoke in draw no bet at 5/2
- This will be the first ever FA Cup meeting between Brentford and Stoke City, despite both teams playing in 100+ FA Cup campaigns.
- Stoke are winless in three matches against Brentford (D2 L1), all in the Championship across the last two seasons – they drew 0-0 earlier this campaign.
- Brentford reached the fifth round of last season’s FA Cup – the Bees haven’t progressed beyond the third round in consecutive seasons since doing so in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
- Since winning 2-1 against Doncaster Rovers in January 2016, Stoke have been eliminated from each of their last four FA Cup ties, losing in a replay against Shrewsbury Town last season.
- Stoke have never won an away FA Cup tie in London in 16 attempts (D6 L10), most recently losing 1-0 against Crystal Palace in 2016.
Preston v Norwich
- 1501 kick-off
The Premier League's worst away team comes up against the Sky Bet Championship's best home side - and their former manager. A home win would be far from a shock and the betting reflects it, with Norwich travelling to Deepdale as 11/5 shots.
Alex Neil's North End are fancied to come out on top though and 13/10 is a perfectly appealing price. Even though the Canaries were the Championship's best side last season, Preston triumphed 3-1 in this fixture and their opponents are currently on an eight-game winless run.
Neil, who guided Norwich to the top flight via the play-offs in 2014/15, is looking to do the same with Preston and, on a shoestring budget compared to their promotion rivals, he is certainly getting the best out of his squad. They are currently ninth and that is largely down to their home form having collected 29 of their 39 points at Deepdale.
It could also be worth backing Sean Maguire to net anytime. The forward has the highest shots-per-game average of any Preston player this season with just over two, he has five goals to his name for club and country and, if Preston are to score, the Republic of Ireland international is a prime candidate.
Best bet: Sean Maguire to score anytime at 11/5
- Preston and Norwich’s only previous FA Cup meeting was in January 2015 in the third round, with the Lilywhites winning 2-0 at Deepdale.
- Norwich are yet to win at Deepdale against Preston under Daniel Farke, drawing one and losing one of two matches.
- Preston have lost 15 of their last 16 FA Cup matches against top-flight opponents, with their only win in that time coming against Derby in 2007-08, who were relegated from the Premier League that season with only 11 points.
- Norwich City are winless in 10 FA Cup matches (D4 L6), going out in the third round in each of the last six seasons.
- Preston manager Alex Neil has won just one of his six FA Cup matches (W1 D1 L4), with three of those coming as manager of Norwich in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Bournemouth v Luton
- 1731 kick-off
Bournemouth have been woeful of late, winning just one of their last 10, and Eddie Howe's side are serious candidates to be relegated from the Premier League.
While it can be said these games are not good for struggling teams, it can be seen as a timely distraction and a chance to get that winning feeling again. Luton are the Championship's bottom side, and for Howe this might just be an important step on the road to recovery.
The Cherries' plight comes as no real surprise after struggling to find consistency in the whole of 2019 and they have been incredibly unfortunate with injuries. It's possible that the combination of returning players and one or two good results gets them right back on track.
Howe, though, has been guilty of making mass changes for cup games in previous years, with a second-string side losing at home to Brighton last year, at Wigan in 17/18, and 3-0 at Millwall in 16/17.
In the Carabao Cup this season, Howe's much-changed side - which could be similar to his XI for this clash - were taken to penalties by fourth-tier Forest Green before being dumped out by third-tier Burton in the next round.
With all of this in mind, backing the Hatters on a +2 handicap at a fraction under evens is very much appealing.
Graeme Jones' side have struggled in the last couple of months but they should up the effort against Premier League opposition and Howe could pay the price again.
Best bet: Luton +2 handicap at 3/4
- Bournemouth and Luton Town haven’t faced since January 2009 in a League Two match, drawing 1-1 at the Vitality Stadium in Eddie Howe’s fourth match in charge of the club.
- Luton and Bournemouth have only faced in one previous tie in the FA Cup, with the Hatters winning after a replay in the first round in 1969-70.
- Bournemouth have been eliminated from each of their last four FA Cup ties, losing in the fifth round in 2015-16 and then the third round in each of the last three seasons.
- Luton have won one of their last nine FA Cup matches against Premier League opposition (W1 D2 L6), winning 1-0 away at Norwich City in the fourth round in 2012-13 when they were a non-league side.
- Bournemouth have been eliminated in the third round in the last three campaigns – only two Premier League sides have ever gone out at this stage in four consecutive seasons; Aston Villa (2001-02 to 2004-05) and Newcastle United (2012-13 to 2015-16).
Manchester City v Port Vale
Port Vale travel to the Etihad priced at 45/1 to come out victorious and that demonstrates just how big the task in hand is for them.
The Valiants are 10th in Sky Bet League Two and face the FA Cup holders who rarely hold back against the lesser teams - at this stage last year they hit seven past Rotherham at the Etihad and it could easily be something close to that figure once again if Pep Guardiola's side are on song. In fact, they are odds-on to score more than five. So how do you find value in this one?
One market to explore is the time of the first goal. It was a trusty one for us in Man City games last season, with them regularly starting well, and you can get them at bigger than 2/1 to score in the first 10 minutes here.
No matter how much Guardiola rotates his squad, they will still be incredibly strong and possibly even boosted by the return of Aymeric Laporte. You can only see this going one way and the hosts getting off to a good start with the inevitable opener is a well-priced find.
- This is the first FA Cup meeting between Man City and Port Vale since January 1991, with City winning 2-1 with goals from Clive Allen and Niall Quinn.
- Port Vale and Man City haven’t faced since October 1999 in the second tier – the sides met twice in the league that month, with City winning 2-1 twice.
- Manchester City have won all four of their FA Cup home matches under Pep Guardiola by an aggregate score of 21-2.
- Port Vale haven’t beaten a Premier League side in their last eight attempts in the FA Cup (D3 L5), last winning in February 1996 in a fourth round replay against Everton.
- Among the 57 opponents Man City have faced at least 20 times in their history, their best win percentage has come against Port Vale (18 wins in 23 games – 78%).
- Port Vale have faced the FA Cup holders twice in their history and eliminated them both times – Blackpool in 1953-54 and Everton in 1995-96. The Valiants are the only team to face the holders of the FA Cup more than once and eliminate them each time.
WATCH: Port Vale's Tom Pope and David Worrall on Man City challenge
Keep an eye on Sporting Life for more FA Cup coverage including further tips for Sunday and Monday's action. And, throughout January, stick with us for all the best transfer window coverage with a daily blog here and done deals from across the Premier League, Sky Bet EFL and Europe here.
Odds correct as of 1400 GMT on 02/01/20
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