In the spirit of longtime Bookies Basement soccer analyst Barney Buckets, I’ve decided to take a crack at a (very) big board for this special weekend of English soccer. It’s FA Cup Third Round weekend!
For the uninitiated, the FA Cup is a wonderfully entertaining tournament, matching up teams of all levels of English soccer. Friday featured exactly this: Manchester City, the top dogs of English soccer at the moment, leaders and favorites to win the Premier League this season, traveled to League Two team Swindon Town. City subs that make six figures a week warming up in the mud along the touchlines, dirtying up their neon-colored cleats.
League Two is the bottom tier of the English Football League, which makes up the three tiers underneath the Premier League in the English soccer pyramid. Our numbers here at The Basement tell me most of our readership here is from the US, so I will compare it to the current World Series Champion Atlanta Braves facing off against the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
When Swindon’s Harry McKirdy scored in the 79th minute against Manchester City on Friday you could hear all of Wiltshire erupt. Pure uninhibited jubilation throughout Swindon’s home County Ground. Swindon lost 4-1, but in fairness, many Premier League teams have looked much worse against City this year than they did on Friday.
Before we go any further, I’d like to truly illustrate the aforementioned English soccer pyramid:
The above infographic saves us all a wordy explanation. Throughout this blog as I lay out picks for the weekend’s games I will be referring to where teams are in their respective leagues. The pyramid connects the top four tiers, with promotion and relegation allowing the teams at the bottom to dream of rising through the ranks and challenging the world’s best.
With the Premier League clubs entering the FA Cup in this weekend’s Third Round, we as fans and anxious gamblers are provided with these David vs. Goliath matchups: City/Swindon on Friday, European Champions Chelsea hosting fifth-tier National League Chesterfield FC on Saturday, Liverpool facing League One’s Shrewsbury Town on Sunday.
Sure, the Premier League teams can (and often do) win these games by four to eight goals but coasting through the FA Cup Third Round can prove costly. The third round has become notorious for “giant killings”, as I lean into the David vs. Goliath cliche a bit more. Recent examples include:
- League Two’s Newport County 2-1 Leicester City in 2019
- then-League Two Oxford United 3-2 then-Premier League Swansea City in 2016
- League Two Stevenage FC 3-1 Newcastle United in 2011
Looking up the YouTube highlights of those games is worth a bit of your time just to see how much these games mean for the fans of teams in lower leagues. Tiny stadiums overflowing with people, brought together for one of the biggest games in their club’s history. That’s why the English sports media gets so cheesy about this tournament, there really is a “Magic of the Cup”, and you can’t replicate it.
Without further ado, let’s get to why we’re all here:
The Big Board
Saturday January 8
7:30am: Coventry City vs. Derby County: Derby County to advance +200
Derby County, led by Wayne Rooney, sit at the bottom of the second-tier EFL Championship, but not through any fault of the former Manchester United striker. Derby went into administration this year, meaning their owner relinquished control of the team and a bunch of accountants are now doing basically everything but practice drills and picking the team. Why that matters at all is because of this, they were docked a whopping 21 points in the EFL standings, forcing them to the bottom.
The line here represents them being on the bottom, not that they actually would be a fairly similarly mid-table team to Coventry City. I love the value of Derby to advance at +200, and the three-way regular time moneyline of +340 is also a tasty prospect.
7:45: Millwall vs. Crystal Palace: Palace ML +110
A South London derby that Crystal Palace should take. I expect Palace to put together a fairly strong team despite losing Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew to the Africa Cup of Nations this month. Take the ML at plus money.
10:00: Boreham Wood FC vs. AFC Wimbledon: Wimbledon ML +115
The National League’s Boreham Wood FC, hailing from, sure enough, Borehamwood, doesn’t quite host a giant, but hosting AFC Wimbledon has sold out the majority-standing Meadow Park. Wimbledon will expect a result despite their struggles in League One.
Queens Park Rangers vs. Rotherham United: QPR ML +110
QPR maybe can get back into the Premier League this year? They should at least make the promotion playoffs and have a shot. Promotion also looks on the cards for Rotherham, currently leading League One, and eyeballing a spot in the EFL Championship next season.
Wigan Athletic vs. Blackburn Rovers: Blackburn ML +155
Some readers will remember Wigan and Blackburn’s days in the Premier League. Blackburn looks up for a return this year, Rovers have been on a tear since getting walloped 7-0 by Fulham in November. Whatever happened that day woke the team up, they’ve won seven of their last nine and drew the other two. All over +155 against a team from a lower league.
The “Not Believing In ‘The Magic of The Cup’” Parlay: Brentford/Reading +115, Port Vale vs. Brentford, Kidderminster Harriers FC vs. Reading:
No I did not just make up some fake-sounding British name to try to fool you reader, Kidderminster Harriers FC are a team from the sixth tier National League North, founded in 1886 and playing at the same stadium since! Kidderminster have had to beat two separate teams from the league above them just to get to this point to host Reading. Port Vale host Premier League outfit Brentford, both teams from higher leagues should see this through.
12:30pm: Chelsea vs. Chesterfield: Chelsea -3.5 +115
Chelsea will likely rotate a bunch of youth/academy players into the team for this, but Chelsea’s academy is one of the world’s best at the moment, so the kids aren’t necessarily chopped liver. Chelsea can run up the score here.
Hull City vs. Everton: Everton ML -115
This line, in my opinion, is an overreaction to the “crisis” at Everton of fans booing them after some bad Premier League performances. Hull City aren’t necessarily tearing apart the Championship, and Everton have a bit to prove, I like the Everton ML here.
Birmingham City vs. Plymouth Argyle: Plymouth to advance +165 Cupset!!
I went against the “Magic of The Cup” earlier, so let’s start to lean into it a bit. Birmingham around the bottom of the Championship, Plymouth Argyle hovering near the top of League One. That’s equal footing in the FA Cup.
Sunday January 9
9:00am: West Ham United vs. Leeds United: West Ham ML -120
It almost feels boring to have two Premier League teams playing each other in the FA Cup. West Ham should continue their very good season with a win here. West Ham are also +2200 to win the whole thing, which, judging by their play in the Premier League this year, might be worth a flyer.
Charlton Athletic vs. Norwich City: Josh Sargent anytime goalscorer +240
This is the one where I let my biases take over. As a guy from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, how can I not bet on fellow St. Louisian Josh Sargent to score his very first Norwich City goal in his very first FA Cup game. Written in the stars!
Cardiff City vs. Preston North End: Preston to advance +115
This line comes likely as a result of Cardiff’s win over Preston North End in their last meeting in the EFL Championship. Preston are coming off an impressive win away at Stoke City, answering one of English soccer’s age-old questions of “Can they do it on a _____ night in Stoke?”
12:00pm: Nottingham Forest vs. Arsenal: Forest to advance +295 Cupset 2!
Arsenal will be missing several players to the Africa Cup of Nations, granted fans will tell you Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t actually been that much of a help this season. With important games coming up for Arsenal in the coming weeks, you could see the likes of Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette rested. Forest are no slouches in the Championship despite probably wishing they were higher in the standings. The City Ground will be rocking!
Monday January 10
2:55pm: Manchester United vs. Aston Villa: Villa to advance +250 Cupset 3!
Manchester United are a fascinating prospect in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. Not entirely sure what they want to be or how to get there. Firing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and bringing in Ralf Ragnick during this Premier League season has done… something I guess? Maybe? It’s hard to tell, they are basically playing the same way, and games are going just as poorly for them.
Aston Villa on the other hand, seem like a rejuvenated organization under Steven Gerrard. Villa has generally played well against teams higher than them in the table even in defeat, and won this contest in September in the Premier League, beating United 1-0.
There you have it folks, a mammoth weekend of FA Cup action, so mammoth that I inadvertently spent like four hours compiling this thing. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s make some money.