RAFAEL Benitez and Chelsea will both be hoping the FA Cup will be kind to them when they resume their own love affairs with the competition at Southampton next month.
Yesterday’s third-round draw pitted the Champions League winners against Nigel Adkins’ Saints over the weekend of 5 and 6 January, and both club and manager will be hoping the headlines surrounding them are happier ones by then.
Benitez has endured a miserable first 11 days in the job since replacing Roberto Di Matteo last month, with a number of fans voicing their opposition to his appointment and only two points taken from the first nine on offer as the Blues slumped to a 3-1 loss at West Ham United on Saturday.
The Spaniard has FA Cup pedigree though, having won it with Liverpool in 2006, while Chelsea will be starting their defence of a trophy they have won four out of the last six seasons.
They have not faced Southampton yet this season – the clubs were due to meet on 15 December but Chelsea will be in Japan taking part in the World Club Cup.
Perhaps the most attractive all-Premier League tie comes at Upton Park, though, where West Ham will meet 11-time winners Manchester United. The two met in the league just four days ago, the Red Devils winning 1-0, but the two have enjoyed many memorable duels over the years, particularly when Paolo Di Canio scored the only goal to knock Sir Alex Ferguson’s men out in 2001.
The draw also threw up a repeat of the 1987 final between Tottenham and Coventry.
The Sky Blues famously beat Spurs 3-2 after extra-time at the old Wembley, a win which included a stunning Keith Houchen diving header.
Newcastle have the chance to avenge last season’s loss to Brighton, Aston Villa are at home to Ipswich and Manchester City take on Watford, but Liverpool may not be relishing their tie.
Brendan Rodgers’ men must head to Lincoln or Mansfield, both Conference sides, who drew 3-3 on Saturday. “It sounds fantastic,” said Lincoln manager David Holdsworth.
“The prospect to get through and face Brendan’s men is a daunting one, but one we would embrace and it would be a wonderful occasion for each set of supporters. The draw has been made now, it’s a fact, and we have to deal with it and try and get through.”
Arsenal’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup, but the first stop in their quest to win it again will be Swansea’s Liberty Stadium, the side who beat them 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in the league on Saturday. The 2011 runners-up, Stoke, go to Championship high-flyers Crystal Palace, while the lowest-ranked side left, Hastings, will face a long journey to Middlesbrough if they beat Harrogate Town in a replay.
Sean Ray, manager of the Isthmian League side, said: “It’s a real dream come true. The dream carries on. The boys are buzzing and are right up for it. It would be an unbelievable tie. We took over 300 fans to Harrogate and would take more than 500 to Middlesbrough.”
Premier League Wigan will be at home to Bournemouth, with fellow top-flight sides Sunderland and Norwich at Championship sides Bolton and Peterborough respectively.
The 1975 runners-up Fulham host Blackpool, nearly 60 years on from their involvement in the Matthews Final, while QPR, bottom of the Premier League, face West Brom.
Third-round (weekend of 5/6 January)
Crystal Palace v Stoke City
Brighton v Newcastle United
Tottenham Hotspur v Coventry City
Wigan Athletic v Bournemouth
Fulham v Blackpool
Aston Villa v Ipswich Town
Charlton Athletic v Huddersfield
Barrow/Macclesfield v Cardiff City
Barnsley v Burnley
Manchester City v Watford
Swansea v Arsenal
Leicester City v Burton
Millwall v Preston North End
Cheltenham/Hereford v Everton
Derby County v Tranmere
Crawley v Reading
Aldershot v Rotherham/Notts County
Middlesbrough v Harrogate/Hastings
Accrington/Oxford v Sheffield United
Southampton v Chelsea
Queens Park Rangers v West Bromwich Albion
Peterborough v Norwich City
Lincoln/Mansfield v Liverpool
Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland
Nottingham Forest v Oldham
West Ham United v Manchester United
Hull City v Alfreton/Leyton Orient
Blackburn Rovers v Bristol City
Leeds United v Birmingham City
Bury/Southend v Bradford/Brentford
Luton v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Sheffield Wednesday v MK Dons