After a hectic Premier League schedule over the festive period it’s time for a break, and the traditional early January FA Cup third round ties. The ‘oldest cup competition’ in the world started much earlier this season for non-league participants, but the third round is the stage where the top two tiers of English football enter the fray and the competition ‘proper’ gets underway.
The romance of the FA Cup is still alive and well, and this season’s heroes are Northern Premier League part-timers Stourbridge, who shocked League One Northampton to book their place in the third round for the first time in the club’s history. Their prize of an away trip to League Two Wycombe may not have been quite the glamour tie Stourbridge had hoped for, but they may well be able to say they survived longer in the competition that at least one Premier League club, if one of West Ham or Man City make their exit on Friday night.
It’s a live TV game at the Hammers new London Stadium between two Premier League clubs, which is more than enough to whet the appetite, but it’s also an intriguing game in terms of approach. What sort of teams will Pep Guardiola and Slaven Bilic put out? And how important is a run in the FA Cup to the respective clubs?
All About Priorities?
It’s clear that the priorities for Guardiola and Manchester City are the Champions League and the Premier League. The former Barca and Bayern boss has a good record in domestic cup competitions in Spain and Germany, but it could be argued that football in those countries is less demanding than the English game, so will Pep look to rest players given his team’s schedule over the next two to three months? Spurs victory over Chelsea in midweek has helped reduce the gap in the league, and a last 16 clash against Monaco in the Champions beckons.
Another way to look at it is to consider that some kind of silverware in his first season is essential for Guardiola, and this may be the ‘easiest’ of the three competitions to win. City don’t play again until Sunday 15th of January either, so there is no immediate need to rest players.
For Slaven Bilic it’s a slightly different situation. The Hammers put together a run of three straight victories to pull clear of the Premier League relegation zone recently, but are still only on a modest 22 points. Survival in the top flight is paramount, and after losing the likes of Kouyate and Ayew to the African Cup of Nations, Bilic may not want to over-extend his squad too much. However, in a similar vein to the Citizens, West Ham have eight days rest before a Premier League game against Crystal Palace. The match is also a sell-out – partly due to the club’s ‘Kids for a Quid’ offer, and with it being the Hammer’s only chance of silverware, one would expect a bold showing.
Trials of Ten Men
Both clubs go into this off the back of playing with ten men in the Premier League, with rather mixed fortunes. West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli was sent off after 15 minutes against Manchester United last Monday, a decision which has already been rescinded to allow the player to take part on Friday night. The Hammers put up a spirited display but were eventually undone in the second half by goals from Mata and Ibrahimovic.
City were also down to ten in the first half of their match with Burnley, after Fernandinho was given his marching orders on 32 minutes. Goals from Clichy and Aguero saw City go on to win 2-1, but their appeal against the red card was rejected and the player begins a four-match ban.
West Ham have only managed two clean sheets in the last ten games – 1-0 wins over Hull and Burnley – but they’ve also only failed to find the net twice in the same ten-game sequence – in defeats to Leicester and Man United.
Similarly, Manchester City have just two clean sheets in ten games – in victories over Hull and Watford – but they’ve only failed to find the net once in that sequence – the 1-0 defeat at Liverpool.
The last two fixtures between the sides have each had four goals – a 3-1 City win at home in August, and a 2-2 draw at the Boleyn Ground last season. Five of West Ham’s last ten have exceeded the over 3.5 goal line, and although only two of City’s last ten have had four or more, you can never put it past a Pep Guardiola team racking up the goals such is his attacking nature. The freedom of playing a cup tie with no points at stake also often leads to high-scoring games, so there’s every chance that we’re in for a Friday night thriller.
Neither Mark Noble or Andy Carroll started the game against Manchester United, so both could be called back into action here. Noble will almost certainly replace Kouyate in midfield, while Carroll could come back in up front if Bilic decides to shuffle his pack.
City left Silva and Aguero on the bench for the visit of Burnley, but both were on at half time to help secure the victory. Yaya Toure is enjoying a run in the side, and looking like getting back to his best, while De Bruyne and Sterling are both available. If anything it’s at the back where problems remain for City, and John Stones was out of the starting eleven again in that 2-1 win over the Clarets.
West Ham v Man City – Both Teams to Score
Friday 6th January, 19:55 GMT
West Ham v Man City – Over 3.5 Goals
Friday 6th January, 19:55 GMT