Thus far, the 2022-23 Premier League soccer season has been a bit staccato. The early part of the calendar was interrupted by the death of Queen Elizabeth II, subsequent security concerns, and an international break. Then, the World Cup rolled around and suspended domestic action for more than a month. Now, that tournament is over, and things are back to normal, right?
While supporters have been spoiled for choice during the festive period, we’re about to slam on the brakes again. During the weekend of January 7, the Premier League doesn’t have any scheduled matches.
What gives? Another competition is on the scene.
The FA Cup will take center stage this weekend
If you’re a North American sports fan who’s relatively new to the soccer scene, one of the big differences to grapple with is the fact that there are multiple competitions running concurrently. While that doesn’t always affect the schedule – the Champions League takes place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for example – certain commitments will bring the Premier League (briefly) to a halt.
That’s what will happen this weekend as the FA Cup takes center stage.
While the FA Cup might not be as prestigious as a Premier League title, especially as the league has become a global presence, the competition is still important. It’s been around since the 1871-72 season and occupies a special place in English football. More than 700 clubs through multiple levels of the football pyramid are in the single-elimination tournament, creating something of a March Madness effect. In theory, the semi-professional team from your tiny town can run the table and lift the trophy ahead of Manchester City and Chelsea.
On Friday, January 6, the Third Round Proper will officially begin. This is the point where the true giants from the Premier League enter the competition, which explains the change of schedule.
When does the Premier League return to action?
Although the big teams will still be in action, most fans will probably view these early FA Cup engagements as little more than a placeholder. Thankfully, the Premier League will be back in action pretty promptly.
Things get back underway on Thursday, January 12, when Fulham and Chelsea make up a postponed match from earlier this season. Matchday 20 will then begin in earnest on Friday and continue through the weekend.
That round of fixtures is highlighted by two major derbies, which will only add to your viewing pleasure. The Manchester Derby takes place on Saturday, while the North London Derby kicks off on Sunday.
Even if it lacks the drama of the Premier League, these early-round FA Cup fixtures can still be worth watching
Given that we just got back into the swing of league action after the World Cup, it can feel disappointing to slam on the brakes for an FA Cup weekend. If you have the time and ability to watch the cup matches, though, it could be a worthwhile experience.
Beyond the possibility of an upset – the competition is known for giant-killings, after all – it’s interesting to see how seriously clubs take the FA Cup and how that manifests in each squad’s selection. When Manchester United and Everton meet on Friday, for example, both managers will have decisions to make. Will the Red Devils view the match as less important than the Premier League and rest players? Or will this be a chance to keep the momentum rolling and build winning habits?
In the opposite dugout, will Frank Lampard view this as a chance to secure a statement win in an important competition? Or, with his team in the relegation zone, will he write the FA Cup off in order to keep his players fresh and fit for the league?
And if the matchup is a little less even, like Arsenal against Oxford United, the match can still provide a glimpse at both the future and the manager’s preferences. Seeing who Mikel Arteta starts at striker, for example, will be illuminating. With Eddie Nketiah thrust into the starting role, the Gunners don’t really have another number 9. Does a kid from the academy get the start? Could Nketiah play 45 minutes and try to put the match to bed before halftime? Seeing how that plays out will be telling for Arsenal supporters everywhere.
So, while it might seem disappointing to miss a weekend of Premier League action so quickly after things got back underway, there are two decent options on the table.
If you’re so inclined, you can give the FA Cup a try. If not, you can enjoy a free weekend and get back to league action in a matter of days.