FA Cup third round
FA Cup shocks

FA Cup third round

In the New Year, we will witness one of the most celebrated milestones in the English football season: the third round of the FA Cup.

This is the stage at which the 20 Premier League teams enter the world’s oldest national football competition.

With England’s strongest teams often being pitted against much smaller clubs there is the potential for giant-killings, but just how often do these occur?

Over the last 10 seasons, the 200 entrants from the English top flight have won just under 70% of their third-round ties (139).

Of the exits, 35 were at the hands of another Premier League team, with the remaining 26 representing exactly a fifth of those who were drawn against a team from the EFL or lower.

How do FA Cup giant killings happen?

Strangely, Premier League clubs have lost a slightly lower share of their ties against second-tier opponents than those from the two lower EFL divisions. Exactly half of the 26 ‘giant-killings’ over the last 10 seasons have been delivered by clubs from Leagues One and Two.

Unsurprisingly, top-flight teams sitting higher in the table tend to fare better, although there are some exceptions. In nine of the last 10 seasons, the team at the bottom of the Premier League has made it through, compared to just two 19th-placed sides.

Clubs sitting in seventh place have been unlucky over the last decade: this is the only other rank with fewer than half of teams progressing to the next round (four).

The pattern also holds when we only look at games against teams below the Premier League. Only three top-flight teams out of 43 who were in the top seven when they met a lower-league side in the third round were eliminated.

Curiously, two of these occasions saw Arsenal defeated by the same Championship side: Nottingham Forest in 2017/18 (while sixth) and 2021/22 (while fourth). The other exit was a much bigger shock: seventh-placed Leicester’s loss at fourth-tier Newport County in 2018/19.

How far do smaller teams get?

By the sixth round – the traditional name for the quarter-finals – just over six of the eight remaining clubs are usually from the Premier League.

It is rare for a team from below the second tier to make it this far: while six have done so during the last 10 seasons, the most recent was Wigan of League One in 2017/18.

Which Premier League teams fare best?

Of current top-flight sides who have competed at this level in at least half of the last 10 years, Chelsea and Manchester City have the best records.

Both have cleared the first hurdle at every attempt, so it will be intriguing to see who prevails when they play each other in this season’s third round.

The London club’s record owes something to luck, with only one of those 10 third-round ties having pitted them against a fellow Premier League side, while seven were at home to lower league opposition.

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