Pregame at Stamford Bridge

I have written many times about how much I love England’s FA Cup, and on the weekend of February 15 this year’s competition hits the 5th Round.

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The highlights? Manchester United visiting Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea and Manchester City having to play at tiny Newport County.

Of course, the beauty of the FA Cup is that it isn’t necessarily about the big clubs playing one another. In fact, one reason I am excited that Man U and Chelsea are playing each other is that it means one of them definitely won’t win the thing.

Quick Primer: What is the FA Cup?

The Fifth Round is the round of 16; next up will be the quarterfinals on the weekend of March 15-18, followed by the semifinals on April 6 and 7 at Wembley Stadium in London. The Final is May 18 at Wembley. In fact, if you watch the Cup this weekend you’ll hear announcers talking about “getting to Wembley,” so that’s what they mean.

Here is a brief intro to all eight games this weekend:

Friday March 15, Watford visit Queens Park Rangers. This is a Premier League team visiting a (tier 2) Championship game for what should be a rocking atmosphere — Friday night at Loftus Road with a big club in, lots of away fans. Wish I could be there!

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Kingsmeadow, home of AFC Wimbledon.

Saturday, March 16 sees three games. Derby County of the Championship visit Brighton and Hove Albion of the Premier League, which would be a fun day out from London mainly because Brighton is a really cool beach town just an hour away. In Greater London, Millwall (Championship) will be at AFC Wimbledon (League One) in front of just 4,850 fans at Kingsmeadow (right). Wimbledon beat West Ham of the Premier League at home to get here!

Finally on Saturday is the dream giants-versus-minnows matchup everyone will be talking about, as Manchester City — defending English champions and one of the best teams in the world — have to go play at League Two Newport County in South Wales. This is the kind of thing people mean when they talk about the Magic of the Cup, because it makes European giants have to play in tiny places in remote locations.

County’s home ground, Rodney Parade, has just 7,850 seats and a pitch that … well, look at their highlights from the last round and see for yourself!

Sunday, March 17 brings three more games, including another big-visits-little as Crystal Palace of the Premier League have to visit Doncaster Rovers of League One. Wolverhampton of the Premier League have to go to Bristol City of the Championship, and that should be a fun one, as well; Wolves are having a great season, and I suspect a lot of their fans will make it down to the very cool Bristol and their lovely Ashton Gate Stadium for that one.

Finally on Sunday, Brentford go to Swansea City.

The away end at The Bridge will be red and rocking on Monday.

Monday, March 18 is the night most people, especially casual fans and TV executives, are really pumped up about: Manchester United at Chelsea. Stamford Bridge will be rocking, as both teams look to get over tough losses — Man U beat at home in the Champions League by Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea humbled 6-0 by Man City.

One of the reasons I love the Cup so much is the greater number of away fans. Normally Man U would get about 3,000 seats for this game, but because it’s a Cup they will get around 5,000. It makes for a great atmosphere, and Stamford Bridge under the lights should be really special on Monday.

Not everyone is excited, by the way: Imagine you’re a Manchester United fan and want to see this game. And let’s imagine you actually live in Manchester — although right here many English folks would say, “Eh, most Man U fans live in London or overseas anyway!” Imagine, though, having to take Monday afternoon off work, get down to London, then get back after an evening game to work on Tuesday. That’s a two-hour train ride once you get from Chelsea to Euston Station! You’d be lucky to get home by 1 a.m.

 

How to Watch the FA Cup on Television

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to be in England this weekend, so here is a quick rundown of how to watch all this on television:

In the UK, check this post for the channels.

In the USA, all FA Cup games are on ESPN+. Click the banner above or right here to sign up for a free one-week trial (full disclosure: I’m an ESPN+ affiliate, so I get a few dollars if you subscribe from here). It’s $4.99 a month for ESPN+, which includes a ton of other sports anyway, but pro tip: You can sign up for a one week trial, watch this weekend, then cancel and not owe anything.

In Canada, it’s on SportsNet World.

For other countries, check this link,

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