Those supporters who’re still cheesed-off about the FIFA World Cup getting scheduled in Qatar for 2022 may actually prefer to skip the following passages, because I’m going to brag on Middle Eastern soccer moguls for just a moment.
The “Emirates FA Cup” is among the quieter of corporate-tagged sports brands, and that’s a good thing. The event is allowed to continue in style without “Emirates” on every version of the name, the latter trope comparable to a tag like “Cheez-It Bowl” or “Buick Invitational” showing up on prestigious scoreboards. Credit goes to the corporation for allowing the English football crown to be warred over and won without pro-fossil fuel images flashing at every turn.
In the upside down world of the 2020s, not having a corporate sponsor’s brand name slathered all over the tournament’s ledger is a sign that an event is growing, not diminishing. Screwball branding efforts are a trademark of minor-league sports after all.
Emirates has also done a good job marketing the FA Cup in a style that’s familiar to English sports viewers. 2019’s funny “Don’t Mug Off The Cup” campaign poked fun at supporters who believe Premier League football is the only football, attacking haters of the event with water, grease, trash, and other hostile substances following their snooty anti-FA Cup comments and actions.
Some of the FA Cup criticism has been warranted, of course. January’s rounds are excuses for EPL managers to hold-off playing their finest starting 11s. Coaches of various top soccer brands are known to have differing views of the FA Cup’s lasting level of prestige, lengthening FanDuel’s “futures” betting odds on clubs like Liverpool and Man United.
However, 2022’s short (+350) odds on Manchester City to lift Football Association hardware is merely 1 indication that the tournament could be transforming for the better.
The oil barons are more than just clever with ads on occasion. They’re about to enjoy good luck with the timing of Premier League and Championship club debuts in the FA Cup’s upcoming 3rd Round. As per custom, Champions League action has paused until February, and the FIFA commitments of top-level footballers are satisfied. High-profile teams like City have been unexpectedly knocked out of the EFL Cup tournament. As a result, managers who would normally be reticent to field an elite starting-11 in a given FA Cup match may be more willing to do so in 2022, reducing the chance of “minnows” swimming up the pool.
The 7-to-1 futures odds on Liverpool reflect Jürgen Klopp’s disdain for trying to win FA Cup titles while coaxing 1st and 2nd-place EPL finishes out of Salah’s supporting cast. But after watching City fall to West Ham in the EFL Cup, speculators in London are sure that Sky Blues manager Pep Guardiola won’t let it happen again.
Meanwhile, the reigning champions are only an (+1800) wager to maintain their title. Leicester City’s betting odds don’t reflect the club’s busy Europa League/EFL Cup slate as much as the club’s sour form, illustrated by a spot on the league table that puts Foxes’ international status in peril for 2022-23.
Man United is expected to go for broke in almost every 2022 competition to compensate for falling behind in the Premiership, an angle FanDuel’s clients have caught onto well enough to give Red Devils (+750) their optimistic championship line.
FA Cup futures odds are also impacted by bracket draws long before gamblers would typically consider short-term position above a team’s overall quality. From a supporters’ point of view, the “biggest” FA Cup matches take place once the semifinals are set, and 4 clubs remain in the hunt for English supremacy.
From a bettor’s perspective, the 3rd round of FA Cup action is as crucial as final elimination bouts, since it is the early rounds in which less-than-ideal lineups from big-time teams can be surprised and beaten by “minnows.”
Easy draws are leading to thin gambling odds for favorites to lift the trophy, as punters foresee EPL stalwarts merely coasting through early rounds until genuine starting 11’s are a thing. Chelsea’s optimistic FA Cup betting odds reflect Pensioners’ easy draw against Chesterfield on January 8th, and it would be a “fairy tale” fitting the scoreboard if Arsenal loses its match against Nottingham Forest.
West Ham’s draw with Leeds United is worrisome, though the EPL’s upstart contenders will rely on a tradition of motivation in the FA Cup. Man United is paired against tough Aston Villa, but MUFC played with a formidable lineup in its recent EFL Cup match, and there’s no hint that new manager Ralf Rangnick will scrap that strategy. Ronaldo can benefit from extra short-term minutes as a rejuvenated force against opponents.
Curious are the (+12000) FA Cup futures odds on Millwall, which rank Lions among the most popular picks from outside the Premier League despite the fact that Millwall is not competitive on the Championship table, and is drawn against visiting Crystal Palace in the 3rd round.
While it can be argued that Millwall’s bang-and-crash style will wear down a lighter, quicker CPFC side on 1/8, Chelsea loaner Conor Gallagher could be a difficult problem for Lions if allowed to play significant minutes. Familiar underdog AFC Bournemouth has drawn against “Glovers” of Yeovil Town and enjoys a better chance to advance in January.
Scroll onward for individual match picks on all 4 of the FA Cup’s upcoming kickoff dates.
Swindon Town F.C. vs Manchester City (Friday, January 7)
At a glance, Man City’s (-1800) odds to win and (-3) spread may not look like very conservative betting lines, but FanDuel’s bookmakers have nodded to Pep Guardiola’s wisdom in setting the odds on Friday’s lone FA Cup kickoff. Swindon Town’s brave lineup has struggled to beat developmental EPL rosters in the past, and Citizens can easily defeat Robins on Friday without drawing on the talents of any of City’s star footballers. The only question is how many of Man City’s best backups and prospects will appear in the matchup.
Friday’s match is an historic chance for Swindon to showcase the League Two club and County Ground as a venue. Harry McKirdy of Robins scored 4 goals and a natural hat trick in a 5-2 league victory coming into the FA Cup fixture, and Swindon Town is likely to circle its wagons around keeper Jojo Wollacott in the early going to help make any attempted shots from McKirdy feel meaningful.
The fact that Wollacott is not skilled to world class makes it probable that Man City will score whenever Sky Blues are afforded multiple quality shots on-target.
However, it’s debatable how much of the contest will consist of ping-pong chaos in the Swindon goal box. Robins may be so overawed by the prospect of playing a competitive opening 45:00 with City that Friday’s underdogs will be content to pass the ball across the back, even with an 0-2 deficit. Manchester City’s flourishes will come as sporadically as the team’s name-brand appearances, which could limit the score enough to keep punters invested through all 90:00.
Bristol City vs Fulham F.C. (Saturday, January 8)
Tony Khan, Fulham F.C.’s co-owner, has had a wayward year promoting his pricey sports brands. First, the tycoon’s “Exploding Ring Death Match” wrestling bout between Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley fizzled like a set of dud Roman candles when AEW’s pyrotechnics refused to cooperate with the grapplers. Later in 2021, Khan’s showcase hire Urban Meyer made a mess of the Jacksonville Jaguars and had to be unceremoniously sacked from the Jacksonville head coaching chair before the NFL’s regular season was over.
But there will be a ray of sunshine for the Khans in Fulham. Cottagers are threatening a top English Championship finish in 2021-22 and could vie for top-tier promotion after falling from the EPL ranks again in the previous cycle. Lanky, talented Aleksandar Mitrovic leads Championship strikers with 22 goals this season, and diminutive 24 y/o Harry Wilson is emerging as an important ball-handler and distributor on the attack.
Fulham enjoys (-145) money-line odds to defeat Bristol City and advance, while FanDuel’s O/U odds-makers expect (2.5) total goals scored.
Though Robins only have 8 league match wins compared to Fulham’s 13, a 3-2 win over Millwall on Sunday marks the underdogs in better form than Cottagers at the present time. Fulham F.C. has hit its maiden protracted slump of the Championship season, and hasn’t won a single match since defeating guest Barnsley in November.
West Ham United vs Leeds United (Sunday, January 9)
London’s influencers won’t let old habits die easy.
West Ham has proven itself capable of sustaining top-half form through a daunting winter EPL schedule, and the upstart contender’s excellent Group Stage position in UEFA Europa League illustrates that Hammers can be a force on the international stage as well. West Ham’s attack is lively enough to have produced 9 goals in the club’s 3 most recent league matches, with a successful holiday road trip punctuated by a 3-0 lead over CPFC after the first half.
Supporters may therefore ask why West Ham United is only at (+220) odds to cover (-1) goal against visiting Leeds. West Ham’s (-140) money-line odds at FanDuel Sportsbook show that bookmakers believe Sunday’s most likely outcome to be a Hammers victory. However, 1-to-1 odds on Leeds United to cover (+1) show that the favorites are expected to have a significant battle on their hands.
The strange optics of a West Ham-Tottenham tournament kickoff just prior to Boxing Day could provide an answer. Spurs began the EFL Cup quarter-final with Harry Kane at striker and Hugo Lloris in goal, FIFA-level bookends for a fixture that no one considered the most prestigious match in Europe. Heung-min Son, a steady talisman for Tottenham in the Premier League, trotted onto the pitch in only the 7th minute. Unmoved, West Ham manager David Moyes began the match with role-playing forward Jarrod Bowen at striker, and entrusted Hammers’ back line to PSG loan Alphonse Areola.
Additional growing pains are expected to plague West Ham as multiple competitions continue to stress the club’s roster to the max. But punters should not assume that the FA Cup isn’t among the very competitions Moyes has been preserving a healthy lineup to try to win in spring ’22. Hammers played well in the FA Cup last cycle, reaching the 5th Round before losing 0-1 in the 97th minute to Manchester United.
Manchester United vs Aston Villa (Monday, January 10)
FanDuel’s UEFA Champions League blog has depicted a Manchester United team that has performed fairly well since making a head coaching change in fall of 2021. MUFC’s regrettable 7th-place standing on the EPL table invites speculation on Ronaldo’s club focusing on and potentially winning other competitions in 2022. Red Devils are unbeaten in all domestic and international matches since November 20th, and most recently bested Burnley 3-1 behind another Ronaldo goal.
Though the 7-to-1 odds for United to win the FA Cup may be accurate, the same cannot be said for MUFC’s (-210) money-line odds to defeat Aston Villa in Monday’s only kickoff. Aston Villa, some may recall, forced Chelsea into a penalty-kick tiebreaker in an EFL Cup meeting just prior to stunning Man United 1-0 at Old Trafford in the fall.
Man United is expected to put forth a strong lineup and effort, as the team continues its quest to avoid 2 massive upset losses to the same opponent in the same season. Betting lines of 1-to-2 scarcely offer a pittance in payoff, so gamblers who agree with the London consensus should look to parlay MUFC with a match winner in one of Saturday or Sunday’s contests.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.