There are no fans, and no replays – but with all of the third-round FA Cup ties being decided on the day and by penalties if necessary, there will also be no shortage of drama this weekend.
BBC Sport’s football expert Mark Lawrenson has made predictions for all 32 matches and given his verdict on who will make it into round four.
For selected matches, including the BBC’s televised games – Arsenal v Newcastle (17:30 GMT on Saturday), Crawley v Leeds (13:30 on Sunday) and Marine v Tottenham (17:00 on Sunday) – Radio 1 DJ Matt Edmondson has made his predictions too.
Matt admits he is not much of a football fan, but is adamant he can do no worse at predictions than Mollie King, his co-host on Radio 1’s Matt and Mollie Show (from 13:00 to 16:00 GMT on Friday, Saturday and Sunday).
“You have come to the right man,” Matt told BBC Sport. “Well, no you haven’t. I know nothing about football so this is going to be interesting.
“Football wasn’t really part of my childhood – I didn’t play either. In fact I very much avoided that at all costs – I was the kid who deliberately forgot his PE kit to get out of it.
“The main reason for that was that our school grounds were basically a concrete playground, which had eroded over time to be the perfect material to slice children’s flesh as they fell, whatever the game was. There was not a blade of grass in sight.
“But although Mollie might argue that she has got into football recently, what she would actually mean by that is that she has watched a couple of those behind-the-scenes documentaries that follow a team.
“She loves a sporting doco, so she has got into American football and F1 through that. For about two weeks she was quite big into football too but I think that has fallen by the wayside – although of course she watches cricket because her fiance is England star Stuart Broad.
“So, she is certainly more interested than I am but I am telling you now, if you asked her the same question about predictions, she would have as much idea as I have, which is none.”
Premier League v non-league
|Marine v Tottenham||161||x-x||0-3|
|Stockport v West Ham||86||x-x||0-2|
Gap = how many league positions separate each team
I’ve had a connection with Marine for many years because their legendary former manager, Roly Howard – who was in charge of them from 1972 to 2005 – used to clean my windows when I played for Liverpool. He always did Kenny Dalglish’s as well.
The Merseysiders have done so well to get here that it’s such a shame that there won’t be any fans present for the biggest game in their club’s history, but it will still be a fabulous day for them. I’m pleased they have made some money through selling virtual tickets, as well as the £75,000 they get for it being shown on TV – it is live on BBC One at 17:00 GMT on Sunday.
As far as the game goes, the gap in league places between the two teams is the largest there has ever been at this stage of the competition, and going to the Marine Travel Arena is going to be a culture shock for some of Tottenham’s players. I’ve played a couple of charity games there, and it is going to be hard enough for them to find it in the first place.
This is Marine versus Jose Mourinho, though, and although he will rest a few players, he will take a strong enough squad to make sure Spurs get through.
The other tie with a non-league side taking on a Premier League team also takes place near the banks of the River Mersey – close enough to be the answer to an old quiz question, in fact. Not a lot of people knew that rather than Anfield or Goodison Park, Edgeley Park was the closest Football League ground to the river until Stockport were relegated in 2011.
County could get that claim to fame back soon, though, because they are doing well in the National League. With the draw for the fourth and fifth round taking place at their ground before this tie, they will know what their reward will be if they cause an upset against West Ham.
I don’t see it happening, although the conditions will make a lot of these games more interesting because I don’t think the snow and ice is going away. With both of these ties, the state of the pitch could be a factor.
Matt Edmondson: The good news is that, in an absolute panic, I thought I’m going to have to get some help here, so I called my father-in-law. We don’t speak on the phone all that often because we have no real reason to, so I think he thought ‘what’s going on, why are you calling me?’. He put some real thought into his predictions, but if they are right I will take full credit – if they are wrong, you can blame Garry Emmett.
For Marine versus Spurs, he is going for a 5-0 Tottenham win, which seems quite sound logic – but I am very excited to see whether any of his predictions come true.
Premier League v League Two
|Chelsea v Morecambe||66||x-x||3-0|
|Crawley v Leeds||62||x-x||0-2|
|Newport v Brighton||53||x-x||1-2|
Morecambe’s last two league games have been called off because of coronavirus, so they will definitely be ready for Chelsea. I am still expecting the Blues to win, but it will be interesting to see what kind of team their manager Frank Lampard puts out.
The fact there are no replays adds a bit more jeopardy to all of these ties, but there is extra time before penalties and if Premier League sides can’t beat lower-league opposition after two hours, then they don’t deserve a second chance.
Leeds will have to watch out for prolific Crawley striker Max Watters, but they have enough goal power of their own to get through that tie.
Newport have made a habit of causing FA Cup upsets at Rodney Parade in recent years but Brighton have not tasted victory since 21 November and I think they will get away from Wales with a badly needed win.
Matt Edmondson: My father-in-law explained to me that Crawley and Leeds are several divisions apart. He thinks Crawley are going to sneak a goal in, but this game is going to Leeds – it’s going to be 4-1 and Patrick Bamford is going to be their star player.
Premier League v League One
|Blackpool v West Brom||38||x-x||1-2|
|Bristol Rovers v Sheff Utd||42||x-x||0-2|
|Burnley v MK Dons||44||x-x||2-0|
|TO BE RESCHEDULED|
|Southampton v Shrewsbury||55||x-x||2-0|
A few of the teams struggling near the bottom of the Premier League have got games against teams in the bottom half of League One.
West Brom look like a dog’s dinner in defence at the moment but they should have enough about them to beat a Blackpool side who have just started to struggle a bit.
Sheffield United have not won a game all season but surely Saturday is the day they finally get something to celebrate on their coach journey home. I am a fan of Bristol Rovers boss Paul Tisdale, but the Blades will get through if they play anything like their best team – they should do, too.
This is Burnley’s first game under their new ownership so I am sure Clarets boss Sean Dyche will want to prove a point against MK Dons, and continue his side’s recent revival.
Meanwhile, Southampton’s tie with Shrewsbury has been postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak – the League One club do not have enough fit, non-isolating players to play the game.
Premier League v Championship
|Everton v Rotherham||36||x-x||2-0|
|QPR v Fulham||22||x-x||1-1P|
|Stoke v Leicester||25||x-x||0-0P|
|Man Utd v Watford||24||x-x||2-1|
|Man City v Birmingham||33||x-x||2-0|
P = Fulham and Leicester to win on penalties after extra time
Rotherham are struggling at the bottom of the Championship and cannot win away, so I don’t give them much of a chance at Everton, who have already been forced to give one or two of their squad players a run-out because of injuries.
It will be a lot closer in the west London derby between QPR and Fulham, and also when Stoke host Leicester – the Potters are very good at keeping games tight.
Unusually for this time of year, Fulham need games after having their previous two league matches postponed. QPR have gone a while without a win, but they will make a game of it.
Manchester United are yet to make their first final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but they will definitely take the FA Cup seriously and should have too much for Watford. The United squad is strong enough for Solskjaer to rotate his team, if he wants to, and still progress.
Manchester City, who beat United in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final, should be comfortable enough against Birmingham – although Blues boss Aitor Karanka did spring an FA Cup surprise at Etihad Stadium when his Middlesbrough side won there in the fourth round in 2015.
Premier League v Premier League
|Aston Villa v Liverpool||7||1-4||0-3|
|Wolves v Crystal Palace||1||1-0||1-0|
|Arsenal v Newcastle||4||x-x||2-0|
The FA Cup will again be important for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta but their main aim will be to make the top four. They have lost eight of their 17 league games so far but, with everyone above them taking points off each other, they are still just about in that race.
Not many people will expect Newcastle to win this tie, but what they really have to do is go out and give it a proper go. There’s no point in them just sitting back and making no attempt to score.
Matt Edmondson: I’ve only been to one football game and it was because my wife and I embarked on this thing called ‘alphabet dating’ – the idea was that we would take it in turns to plan dates and each date had to start with the next letter of the alphabet. I love a format, what I can say? For the letter ‘E’ I thought I could take her to Emirates Stadium so I got hold of some tickets through Lethal Bizzle, who is a big Arsenal fan. The tickets were great, and I did enjoy it… but not enough so I would necessarily need to go back. It was a nice day out though.
The Arsenal-Newcastle game was the first one I asked my father-in-law about and this is the one he was most confident about. He felt Arsenal were gong to win 3-0, which feels big to me… but I am going to go with it. He thinks if they play Bukayo Saka and Folarin Balogun, a young exciting forward, things will go well for them.
Championship v non-league
|Boreham Wood v Millwall||66||x-x||1-2|
|Chorley v Derby||83||x-x||2-1|
Millwall are on a poor run of one win in 13 games but I still think they can cope with whatever Boreham Wood throw at them.
Derby have been forced to use their under-23 and under-18 players after their first-team squad was hit by coronavirus and this is going to be a tough ask for them – it will definitely be an education. The one advantage that part-timers Chorley will have is their physical strength, and I’d expect them to use it.
Chorley have already beaten Wigan and Peterborough on their way to round three and I think they will get another scalp here.
Championship v League Two
|Exeter v Sheff Wed||37||x-x||0-2|
|Oldham v Bournemouth*||59||x-x||1-2|
|Stevenage v Swansea||68||x-x||0-2|
|Barnsley v Tranmere||52||x-x||1-0|
*Match being played at Vitality Stadium instead of Boundary Park
A couple of weeks ago I might have backed Exeter to upset Sheffield Wednesday but the Owls’ results have picked up and they are climbing away from the foot of the Championship.
It is always freezing at Boundary Park – this time it was so cold, they had to switch the venue of Bournemouth’s tie with Oldham to Vitality Stadium, which will obviously help the Cherries.
Like Bournemouth, Swansea are going for promotion to the Premier League and should be far too strong for a Stevenage side that are fighting to stay in the Football League.
Tranmere were one of the stories of last season’s third round, coming from 3-0 down to force a replay with Watford, then of the Premier League, and beating them at Prenton Park.
This year, I don’t see them getting past Barnsley who are a very tidy side, and are sitting in the top half of the Championship.
Championship v League One
|Blackburn v Doncaster||17||x-x||2-1|
|Huddersfield v Plymouth||26||x-x||2-0|
|Bristol City v Portsmouth||17||x-x||1-2|
Doncaster play some nice football but Blackburn are another solid Championship side who are going well.
Plymouth have got the best home record in League One but the worst away from home. If their tie against Huddersfield wasn’t in Yorkshire, I might be tipping them to win it.
I fancy a bit of a shock on Sunday, though. Bristol City are going through a bit of a sticky patch, and Portsmouth are in decent form, especially on the road where they have only lost once all season.
Matt Edmondson: I am from Portsmouth but I am entirely football agnostic – I lived down the road from Fratton Park in Southsea but never went. The closest I came to supporting a team was for the 1998 World Cup, when I got big into that with a wallchart and the computer game of the tournament…. but that is as far as it went. I am very envious of football fans because I wish I cared as much about anything as some people care about football – I wish I had that level of passion coursing through me, but I only really engage when there is a big tournament on. I do hope Portsmouth win this one, though, and my prediction is that they go through on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Championship v Championship
|Luton v Reading||9||x-x||1-1P|
|Norwich v Coventry||15||x-x||2-1|
|Nottingham Forest v Cardiff||4||x-x||2-0|
|Brentford v Middlesbrough||3||x-x||2-0|
|Wycombe v Preston||12||x-x||1-1P|
P =Reading and Preston to win on penalties after extra time
On their day, Reading are really good going forward, but I’ve been impressed when I’ve watched Luton and, at home, they have a chance – they should at least go the distance anyway.
Norwich and Coventry are two footballing teams who are easy on the eye, so this will be a good game to watch for the neutral. Sky Blues boss Mark Robins has done a great job in the circumstances, while the club is without a home of their own, but the Canaries are cooking with gas at the top of the table.
Nottingham Forest have improved a lot in recent weeks and I’m going with them to beat a Cardiff side who have lost three in a row. Brentford’s exciting attack should see off Middlesbrough too – I don’t think Boro boss Neil Warnock will be too bothered about the FA Cup anyhow.
Then there is the mighty Preston. My old club drew with Wycombe before Christmas – I’m going for the same result this time, but for us to win on penalties.
League Two v League Two
|Cheltenham v Mansfield||11||x-x||2-1|
Nigel Clough has been doing a good job since taking over at Mansfield, who have won their past three matches. There’s a reason Cheltenham are pushing for promotion though, and they have been getting plenty of plaudits.
Lawro was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
- Stream eight live FA Cup third-round games this weekend on BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app. Find out more here.