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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am
 

Form and class are the two bedrocks of football betting, and it is no different in the FA Cup despite the competition's reputation for fairy tales and upsets. Chelsea, the cup winners in the past two years, have the class, but form has deserted them and at this stage they look poor favourites to complete the hat-trick.

The good news for Chelsea, who have won only one of their last eight matches in all competitions, is that they have a third-round home draw against a lower-league team in poor form. Ipswich, sixth from bottom in the Championship, have won just two of their last 10, losing seven.

The most worrying aspect for Chelsea is that Ipswich have shown good cup form this season, advancing to a Carling Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal next week.

The reason Chelsea are 4.00 favourites for the FA Cup is that Manchester United, who head the betting for the Premier League, have a tougher third-round tie at home, to Liverpool. But United, having won 3-2 in their home league game against Liverpool in September, should ram home their superiority.

Liverpool are sixth favourites at 17.00, which owes more to reputation than to form or the uneven class of their squad.

If United join Chelsea in the fourth round and both have an equal measure of good fortune in the draw, Alex Ferguson's team will be favourites for the cup, which is worth bearing in mind this weekend when betting on the outright victors. Chelsea are poor value unless United or Arsenal, 5.50 joint-second favourites, are knocked out.

Arsenal, like the other two, have a home draw, against Championship high-fliers Leeds United. The Yorkshire club caused a big upset in the third round last season, when they were a division lower but turned over United 1-0 at Old Trafford. Leeds have lost their best player from that side, the goalscorer Jermaine Beckford, and lightning appears unlikely to strike twice.

At least one of Arsenal, Chelsea and United has appeared in 16 of the past 18 finals and between them they have lifted the trophy on 14 occasions in that period, so that trio are the logical place to look for this year's winners.

Their most serious rivals are Manchester City (7.00) and Tottenham (9.00). Tottenham and manager Harry Redknapp have the better cup pedigree, but both teams could face fixture congestion and higher priorities later in the season and they are less experienced at coping with those pressures than Arsenal, Chelsea and United. Arsenal, though trophyless since defeating United on penalties in the 2005 FA Cup final, are the pick.

Form and class will be important in the third-round ties, and there are two groups of teams to focus on. The first is the bottom eight in the Premier League, as in general their form and class is on the wane. Another factor with those sides is that the threat of relegation is likely to have a strong influence on team selection in the FA Cup, which will weaken their chances even more.

Last season five of this group went through into the fourth round, but three of the four who made it at the first attempt were drawn against teams from at least two divisions lower, while the other played another team from the Premier League bottom eight. Five of the current bottom eight are away to Championship sides and that quintet - Birmingham, Wolves, Wigan, West Brom and Aston Villa - look most vulnerable to an upset.

The other group to look at are the top-half teams from the Championship, whose form is solid and may not be far off Premier League class. A prime example last season was Blackpool, who were eighth in the Championship when the third round took place, went on to win promotion and have taken the top flight in their stride.

League priorities may also influence team selection with these teams, but last season only three of the top 12 from the Championship were beaten first attempt in the third round. Several of the highest-placed teams from the Championship should be competitive against Premier League opposition, with leaders QPR at Blackburn, Cardiff (second) at Stoke, Reading (eighth) hosting West Brom and Millwall (ninth) at home to Birmingham.

Those matches offer the possibility of more upsets, and it is noteworthy that Millwall v Birmingham and Reading v West Brom are the only match-ups of a top-half team from the Championship and a bottom-eight team from the Premier League. Millwall are unbeaten in eight in the Championship, with a clean sheet in six of those games, while Reading have lost just once in their last 10.

An even more intriguing match-up is Sven-Goran Eriksson's Leicester City at home to Manchester City, one of the Swede's former clubs. Leicester are on the rise under Eriksson and have a solid home record since he took charge, so they have hope of causing the weekend's biggest upset.

Shortlist: Millwall, Portsmouth, Bristol CIty, Middlesbrough, Coventry, Doncaster, Hull, Sheffield United.

Top five bets

1 Millwall home win

Will be tough to crack for low-scoring Birmingham

2 Portsmouth away win

Have had several good away results against better teams

3 Bristol City home win

Have made Ashton Gate a difficult place to visit

4 Middlesbrough away win

Showing signs of improvement and can make class gap tell

5 Coventry home win

Strong at home against teams below them in the league standings

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