FA Cup 2023 Preview: Can Manchester City become back-to-back champions

Greg Lea

3 January 2024

The first weekend of the new year is almost upon us and that means the third round of the FA Cup is about to get under way. 

The action begins at Selhurst Park on Thursday night, with Crystal Palace hosting Everton. There will be another 30 matches played between Friday and Sunday, before the round concludes with Wigan Athletic vs Manchester United - two former winners - on Monday. 

Manchester City are the defending champions and the favourites to lift the trophy this season at 3.9. City remain the strongest side in England and they should get even better in 2024, especially as Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne are on the verge of returning to the side after injury.

City should be able to negotiate a home tie against Huddersfield Town without too much difficulty. Pep Guardiola will prioritise the Premier League and the Champions League, though, and that could be an issue given City’s squad is not as deep as one might expect. 

Incidentally, there have only been six instances of a team winning the FA Cup in back-to-back years since the start of the 20th century: Newcastle United in 1951 and 1952; Tottenham Hotspur in 1961 and 1962, and then again in 1981 and 1982; Arsenal in 2002 and 2003, plus 2014 and 2015; and Chelsea in 2009 and 2010.

Arsenal and Liverpool are both contenders at odds of 10.0 and 12.5 respectively. The problem is, one of those teams will not make it through to the fourth round after they were drawn to face each other at the Emirates Stadium this weekend. The winner of that tie will be among the favourites for as long as they are in the competition.

Chelsea are eight-time FA Cup winners - only Manchester United and Arsenal have scooped the prize more often. The domestic cups will be important to Mauricio Pochettino this season. The Argentine is yet to win a trophy in English football, while Chelsea are almost certainly out of the race for Champions League qualification already. The Blues, who face Preston North End at home on Saturday, could be a good bet at 11.5.

Erik ten Hag won the EFL Cup in his debut season as Manchester United manager and the under-presure Dutchman may need another piece of silverware to stay in the job. The Red Devils were runners-up last time out and they should get past Wigan on Monday, but it is hard to see such an inconsistent side going all the way. United are available at 11.5. 

The one major black mark against Ange Postecoglou is Tottenham’s early exit from the EFL Cup. A club that has not won a trophy since 2008 is desperate to end that drought, and some will like the look of 13.0 on Spurs winning the Wembley final in May.

Elsewhere, Newcastle United (13.5) and Aston Villa (20.0) will be out to show that they belong among the big boys. Villa are the better team this season, but Newcastle - trailing in the top-four race, out of Europe and without silverware since the 1950s - will probably take the FA Cup more seriously than Unai Emery’s men. Newcastle face a tricky test against arch-rivals Sunderland on Saturday.

Brighton & Hove Albion (20.0) and West Ham United (29.0) are among the dark horses, but nine of the last 10 tournaments have been won by one of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. The victors this year will probably come from that quintet too.

Greg Lea

3 January 2024

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