LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 6 – Jaap Stam returns to Manchester United on Saturday with the Reading manager plotting an FA Cup giant-killing at the club that sold him when he fell out with Alex Ferguson.
The 44-year-old Dutch former hardman defender, who won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and the 1999 Champions League during his three-year stay at United, has impressed in his first job in England, guiding Reading to the cusp of the automatic promotion places to the Premier League.
However, his “Royals” confront a United side that are FA Cup holders and at last are beginning to gel under Jose Mourinho, putting together a run of seven successive victories in all competitions.
Stam, whose biography sparked the falling-out with Ferguson and saw him sold to Lazio, said the weekend cup third-round clash was not about him.
“Of course we’re looking forward to it. It’s a great draw, not only for me, but also for the players,” Stam told Reading’s website.
“To play at Old Trafford in front of 80,000 people, against quality players in the FA Cup, a competition everyone wants to do well in, a trophy everybody wants to win, it’s going to be nice.
“It’ll be good to be back in Manchester. I still love the club, I love the fans, I had a great time over there and it’s going to be good to be going back in this way.
“We’re not saying we don’t have a chance. Everybody has a chance. It’s not about me, it’s about Reading facing United at Old Trafford.”
Fellow second-tier side Preston are also hoping to claim a major scalp.
They host an Arsenal side which is not in a good place at the moment with Chilean star Alexis Sanchez apparently refusing to speak to his team-mates after the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth this week.
Sanchez, like Mesut Ozil — both of whom are holding out on signing new contracts — will be rested for the match.
Preston will hope to go one better than their 1999 predecessors under David Moyes, who led the Gunners 2-0 in their third-round tie before losing 4-2.
Arsene Wenger says he is not taking the opposition lightly.
“The FA Cup is a big priority for us,” he said. “It’s a massive competition for us.”
– Crazy Gang revisited? –
Struggling Premier League teams Hull and Swansea play each other both with new faces in the dugout, Marco Silva and Paul Clement respectively, and they could be forgiven for having other priorities than a prolonged cup run.
Among the minnows, seventh-tier Stourbridge will bid to add fourth-tier Wycombe Wanderers to their list of victims, having eliminated Northampton Town.
The lowest-ranked team left in the competition — whose manager Gary Hackett runs a chemical distribution company — already have a link to FA Cup history.
Stourbridge goalkeeper Matt Gould is the grandson of Bobby, who guided Wimbledon — fondly known as “the Crazy Gang” — to a stunning upset over Liverpool in the 1988 final.
“He (Bobby) has slept with the FA Cup a few times and I think he chucked my grandma out of the bed to make space!” Gould told the Daily Mail.
“I think we have our own Crazy Gang. They are a bunch of nutters.”
Accrington v Luton, Barrow v Rochdale, Birmingham v Newcastle, Blackpool v Barnsley, Bolton v Crystal Palace, Brentford v Eastleigh, Brighton v Milton Keynes Dons, Bristol City v Fleetwood, Everton v Leicester, Huddersfield v Port Vale, Hull v Swansea, Ipswich v Lincoln, Manchester United v Reading (3:30pm), Millwall v Bournemouth, Norwich v Southampton, Preston v Arsenal (8:30pm), QPR v Blackburn, Rotherham v Oxford, Stoke v Wolves, Sunderland v Burnley, Sutton v AFC Wimbledon, Watford v Burton, West Brom v Derby, Wigan v Nottingham Forest, Wycombe v Stourbridge
Cardiff v Fulham (2:30pm), Chelsea v Peterborough, Liverpool v Plymouth (4:30pm), Middlesbrough v Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham v Aston Villa (7pm)
Cambridge v Leeds (10:45pm)