Expect 2011 champions City to be up for lifting the FA Cup once more

THE FA Cup third round is always one for the romantics and this weekend is no exception with the likes of Blue Square Bet Premier side Mansfield hosting Liverpool and League Two outfit Cheltenham taking on Everton.

The dream is alive for every team, but the cream nearly always rises to the top: in the last 17 years, only Portsmouth in 2008 have stopped Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal or the two Manchester clubs lifting the trophy.

Holders Chelsea – winners of three of the last four and four of the last six – are as big as 16/1 for the Premier League after defeat to QPR but must be serious runners for the Cup, at 15/2 with Coral.

However, this could be Manchester City’s year after another disappointing European campaign. The sceptics say that Roberto Mancini needs to retain the league to save his job, but this looks his No1 chance of a trophy.

City, at their best, are the top side in the country and a third round home tie against Watford will hold no fear. They are worth backing at 11/2 with Blue Square Bet to repeat their 2011 triumph.

League leaders Manchester United are second favourites, at 13/2 with the same firm, but boss Sir Alex Ferguson has bigger fish to fry. He’ll be desperate to claw back the title from City and has a huge Champions League tie with Real Madrid on the horizon.

United also haven’t won the FA Cup for nine years, but their trip to West Ham is the standout match of the round.

Finalists five times and winners on three occasions, the Hammers would dearly love to enjoy a cup run. But five defeats in eight league games have served as a reminder of how tough it is in the top flight and Sam Allardyce knows where their priorities lie.

Although United have had some eyebrow-raising results at this stage in the last decade, namely defeat to Leeds (2010) and draws with Burton (2006) and Exeter (2005), they are currently in ominous form. They have opened up a seven-point lead in the top flight and I’m happy to back the Red Devils at a general 4/6.

Elsewhere, Arsenal look a good price at 5/4 with Blue Square Bet to beat Swansea.

I can overlook the fact that the Swans have beaten the Gunners in their last two meetings – 3-2 at the Liberty Stadium last season and 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium last month – and that they have lost just twice at home in all competitions this term.

Arsene Wenger will demand a reaction from his players after the poor performance in Tuesday’s draw at Southampton and his side are in better form than their hosts after taking 13 points from 15 in the Premier League. Those five games have yielded 22 goals so I’d recommend buying total goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index.

■ Pointers…
Manchester City to win FA Cup at 11/2 (Blue Square Bet)
Manchester United to beat West Ham at 4/6 (general)
Arsenal to beat Swansea at 5/4 (Blue Square Bet)
Buy Arsenal v Swansea total goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index