Birmingham v Newcastle
Predicting the outcome of a FA Cup Third Round tie 48 hours in advance is pretty much a case of the blind leading the blind.
In fact, the only thing we can wager on confidently during the new few days is that we won’t hear a manager declare in his pre-match press conference that, “We’ve been looking forward to this game for weeks, having a good cup run is our priority and I’ll be fielding my strongest side possible.”
Unfortunately that just doesn’t happen anymore. League titles, qualifying for Europe, avoiding relegation, achieving promotion; those are your priorities these days. They always have been of course, but they used to go hand-in-hand with managers still taking the FA Cup seriously.
But not anymore, and you can rest assured managers up and down the country will be making a plethora of changes to their starting XIs this weekend.
Newcastle have easily the strongest squad in the Championship and Rafa Benitez hasn’t been afraid to rotate his men for league games, so he’ll no doubt freshen his side up for the trip to St Andrew’s after a hectic Christmas schedule.
But given United’s quality we can be confident that whoever Benitez starts with should be good enough to progress to the next round. The Magpies have been excellent away from home this term, and facing an out-of-form Birmingham side should present few problems.
The Blues have taken just a single point from a possible 12 since Gianfranco Zola replaced Gary Rowett and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Italian juggled his side here, more in the hope of trying to find a few players he can trust for league games ahead than anything else.
BACK – Newcastle to Win at 1.94
Everton v Leicester
Everton have hit a bit of form in the Premier League, winning three of their last five matches including a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, an impressive 3-0 win over Southampton, and a 2-0 triumph over Saturday’s opponents Leicester.
However, Ronald Koeman‘s men find themselves fully nine points behind sixth-placed Manchester United in the league so a good cup run would be very welcome on Merseyside.
I can see Koeman fielding a strong side, and given Leicester’s dreadful away form backing the home win carries a lot of confidence.
The Foxes have yet to win a single league game away from home this season, and with a relegation battle ahead, and the club losing a few players to Africa Cup of Nations duty during the next four weeks or so, I envisage Claudio Ranieri resting some of his more important players for the trip to Goodison Park.
BACK – Everton to Win at 1.92
Hull v Swansea
At least one boss will commence his tenure at his new club by progressing to the fourth round of the FA Cup, but don’t expect it to be at the first time of asking.
Both Hull and Swansea are in such poor form that it’s impossible to make a confident selection in the Match Odds market, though given the Draw is trading as the outsider of the three options at a quite appealing 3.60 then that’s the call from a value perspective.
I’m pretty confident that if these two clubs met under the exact same circumstances three matches in a row then at least one of them would finish in a stalemate, and that would be enough for us to make a profit.
It’s also impossible to know exactly how new managers Marco Silva (Hull) and Paul Clement (Swansea) will approach this tie given Premier League safety is undoubtedly their priority.
It could be that both managers will simply go all out for the win given that a replay is probably the last thing they’ll want, and I’m not surprised that the Over 2.5 Goals options is a shade of odds-on at 1.98. When these two sides met in the Premier League earlier in the season it was Under 2.5 Goals that was favourite. Hull ran out 2-0 winners at the Liberty Stadium.
If you’re thinking of having a decent wager on this match it will probably mean you waiting for the team new. Unfortunately I don’t have that luxury but at this stage I just feel that the draw is slightly over-priced.
BACK – The Draw at 3.60
Norwich v Southampton
There could potentially be a minor shock at Carrow Road on Saturday afternoon given Southampton’s poor run of form.
Many will argue that with the Saints safely in mid-table then boss Claude Puel may as well play his strongest side possible and go for FA Cup glory. It’s certainly a possibility, but his strongest side aren’t exactly playing well at present.
And with club captain Jose Fonte handing in a transfer request on Thursday a few cracks might just be starting to appear within the Southampton squad.
Puel’s men have lost three league games on the spin now, conceding nine goals in the process. That’s quite an alarming statistic for a team that recorded six clean sheets on the spin earlier in the season.
Norwich haven’t exactly been in great form either, in fact I’ve been keen to take them on recently, but on Monday they recorded a superb 3-0 win over in-form Derby, and with Alex Neil still under pressure I’m confident he’ll send out a strong side to try and gain some more momentum against a vulnerable Premier League outfit.
BACK – Norwich to Win at 3.50
West Brom v Derby
A meeting of two in-form teams though it’s unlikely we’ll witness a high-scoring classic when the Baggies host the Rams on Saturday afternoon.
Tony Pulis‘ men are enjoying a fantastic season, currently sitting eighth in the table with a four-point cushion over those below them. They’ve just recorded back-to-back wins over Southampton and Hull but I’ve got a feeling that the visit of Derby will present a very tough challenge.
Steve McClaren‘s men have been on a terrific run of form in the Championship, winning eight of nine games prior to Monday’s defeat at Norwich, and they’ve recorded a very impressive seven clean sheets from their last nine matches.
At the Ipro Stadium Derby haven’t conceded a goal for over three months, and although this tie is away from home it shows how organised and defensively tight McClaren’s men have become.
West Brom will have plenty of possession but if they don’t make an early breakthrough I envisage a very tactical affair with both defences coming out on top. Don’t be surprised if this game remains goalless for long periods.
BACK – Under 1.5 Goals at 3.00
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