Topflight teams set to rest top players in FA Cup

Chelsea begins its defense of the FA Cup with what should be a

routine home game against second-tier club Watford on Sunday, and

manager Carlo Ancelotti has to decide whether to rest Michael

Ballack, John Terry and Frank Lampard.

With the Premier League campaign taking a break at the

halfway stage, the focus turns to the third round of the cup and

the topflight teams have largely managed to avoid each other as

they enter the competition.

That puts the coaches into a dilemma as they decide whether

to run the risk of disrespecting the game’s oldest and most

prestigious cup competition by resting their best players.

Ancelotti’s team leads the Premier League by two points, and

the Italian may well give some of the key players a break and take

a look at some of his backup squad, especially those who have made

few starts.

“Together, we took this decision to maintain this squad

because we think this squad is a good squad, is able to play the

games we have in January, and we have a possibility to give an

opportunity – a great opportunity – to the young players if it’s

necessary,” he said.

Manchester United holds the record of 11 FA Cup triumphs and

has a tricky home game against runaway League One leader Leeds on

Sunday. In the past, such a matchup would have been one of the

games of the season but Leeds’ decline to the third tier has meant

that a victory at Old Trafford would now be regarded as a major

upset.

With his team just behind Chelsea in the Premier League and

with a League Cup semifinal meeting with neighbor Manchester City

to come, manager Alex Ferguson will probably give the likes of

Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic a rest.

Ferguson has won the FA Cup five times.

Likewise, Liverpool is likely to let Fernando Torres and

Steven Gerrard sit out Saturday’s visit to Reading, another team

from the League Championship which has never won the cup.

The scorer of Liverpool’s injury-time winner in a 1-0 victory

at Aston Villa on Tuesday, Torres has been hampered by injuries and

Gerrard is only just back to full fitness.

Of the traditional top four, only Arsenal faces Premier

League opposition in West Ham. But manager Arsene Wenger usually

gives his young backup players a start in cup competitions and is

unlikely to change that policy, even though his side goes to Upton

Park on Sunday with Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott sidelined.

Aston Villa-Blackburn and Wigan-Hull are the only other two

matches involving topflight teams. Villa and Blackburn have won the

cup a combined 13 times, while neither Wigan nor Hull have been in

the final.

Eight-time FA Cup winner Tottenham will be confident of a

home victory over Peterborough, which is last in the League

Championship. That will give manager Harry Redknapp the chance to

rest some of his usual starters so they can concentrate on staying

in the top four in the Premier League.

Big-spending Manchester City has a tricky game at

Middlesbrough, which was relegated from the Premier League last

season.

Sunderland hopes to avoid the embarrassment of losing at home

to non-league Barrow and the same applies to Stoke, which welcomes

York.

Unbeaten in 11 games, Birmingham climbed to its highest ever

Premier League position but goes to dangerous Nottingham Forest,

which is third in the League Championship.

Of the other Premier League teams facing sides from the lower

divisions: Everton hosts Carlisle, Fulham welcomes Swindon, Bolton

meets Lincoln and last-place Portsmouth takes on Coventry at home.

Wolves goes to Tranmere and Burnley visits Milton Keynes Dons.