Sherwood's philosophy spices up London derby
Spurs' attacking approach promises goals galore in FA Cup clash with Arsenal
The north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham is the standout match in the third round of the FA Cup and it promises to be even more exciting now that new Spurs boss Tim Sherwood has given his team the freedom to attack that seemed to be denied them under Andre Villas-Boas.
Sherwood has collected 10 points out of a possible 12 from his first four games in the Premier League, with his team scoring eight goals and winning impressively at Manchester United and Southampton. In those four games, Tottenham have accumulated one-third of their total league goals - under Villas-Boas they were scoring at half the rate, just one goal per game.
That suggests Tottenham are likely to take the fight to Arsenal more than they did in the league encounter at the Emirates stadium in September, won 1-0 by the hosts, and Saturday night's match might be more in keeping with the long-term trend in north London derbies.
Fifteen of the last 20 meetings have had over 2.5 goals and another high-scoring match in that vein is the best pick.
Even in this more open season, the eventual winner of the FA Cup is likely to be one of the big six teams (as it has been in 22 of the past 25 seasons) and Manchester City and Chelsea start the competition as obvious favourites. One of that pair has been in six of the past seven finals, lifting the trophy five times between them.
City's 2-1 win in last year's semi-final is Chelsea's only loss in 90-minute play in their last 30 FA Cup games, while City built an equally impressive record in the competition under Roberto Mancini, with two defeats out of 19 in 90-minute play.
City have continued that excellent cup form under Manuel Pellegrini by reaching next week's League Cup semi-finals and it is difficult to envisage a shock for City or Chelsea. At this stage, Chelsea look a decent bet to win the competition.
The biggest upset involving a Premier League team in last season's third round came for a struggler against a high-flyer from the Championship - Brighton (ninth in the Championship at the time) won 2-0 at home to Newcastle (who were 15th in the Premier League).
That is a regular occurrence at this stage of the competition, as in-form teams near the top of the Championship are often not far off the level of sides who are under threat of relegation from the top flight. The match that best fits into that category this weekend is Nottingham Forest (fifth) against West Ham (19th).
Forest have found some form (undefeated in seven games), while West Ham, who have the twin problem of a low-scoring attack and a defence torn apart by injuries, are the worst team in the Premier League on current form with no win in their last seven games.
The other Premier League team knocked out by lower-league opposition in last season's third round was Sunderland, who were also struggling (14th at the time) and were drawn away to a Championship side (Bolton, who were then 16th but probably already better than that, as they only just missed out on the play-offs in the end). The score in the initial tie was 2-2 (Bolton led 2-0 after an hour) before the Championship side won the replay 2-0.
Perhaps Hull, away to Middlesbrough, might be similarly vulnerable this weekend, although it has to be said that Steve Bruce's team are going pretty well in the Premier League.
The best Championship teams all have away ties against Premier League teams. Leaders Leicester are away to Stoke, Burnley visit Southampton and QPR go to Everton. Although they might put up a good fight, a replay would be a good result for any of them, as it would for Derby after their home match against Chelsea.
Championship teams at home to lower-league opposition are always worth considering and seven fit into that category this weekend - Barnsley v Coventry, Bournemouth v Burton, Charlton v Oxford, Doncaster v Stevenage, Ipswich v Preston, Wigan v MK Dons and Yeovil v Leyton Orient.
The top pick is Ipswich, who are the highest-placed Championship team from that group and are a strong home side. The only ones probably worth avoiding are Barnsley and Yeovil.
In the other all-Premier League ties the best bets appear to be Newcastle at home to Cardiff and West Brom at home to Crystal Palace.