What round of the FA Cup do Premier League teams enter?

The FA Cup is the oldest national football competition in the world. It is a knockout tournament that begins in August each year with teams from the lower leagues, and Premier League teams join in later rounds. But what round do the top teams from the Premier League enter the FA Cup?

When Do Premier League Teams Join the FA Cup?

Premier League teams do not enter the FA Cup until the third round proper. This means they skip the extra preliminary round, the preliminary round, the first round qualifying, the second round qualifying, the third round qualifying, the fourth round qualifying, and the first two rounds proper.

The first and second rounds proper feature teams from Leagues One and Two. By the third round, 64 teams remain, and this is when the 20 Premier League clubs join the competition.

Why Do Premier League Clubs Get a Bye?

Premier League teams get a bye through the early rounds of the FA Cup for a few reasons:

  • Premier League clubs have larger squads and more financial resources, so it could be seen as unfair for them to play lower league clubs early on.
  • It avoids fixture congestion for Premier League teams who are also competing in the league and other cup competitions.
  • Going straight into the third round proper helps maintain the prestige of the FA Cup and ensures Premier League clubs enter when interest is highest.

Essentially, giving the top teams a bye adds to the excitement and competition when they finally enter the tournament in the third round.

A Look at the Early Rounds

So what exactly happens in those early rounds before the Premier League teams join?

Here is a brief overview:

  • Extra Preliminary Round – This features the lowest ranked teams and qualifying legends from the previous season. It whittles teams down to 160.
  • Preliminary Round – Reduces teams to 116.
  • First Round Qualifying – Reduces teams to 80.
  • Second Round Qualifying – Reduces teams to 40.
  • Third Round Qualifying – Reduces teams to 32.
  • Fourth Round Qualifying – Reduces teams to 32 across the top 7 leagues in the English football pyramid.
  • First Round Proper – Reduces teams to 40, featuring those who qualified plus clubs from Leagues One and Two.
  • Second Round Proper – Reduces teams to 32 ready for the third round when Premier League clubs join.

So in those early rounds, over 600 clubs are whittled down to just 32. It’s a fascinating stage of the competition that eliminates all the minnows and sets up ties between the Football League teams before the big boys enter.

When Exactly do Premier League Teams Enter?

Now we know Premier League clubs enter the FA Cup in the third round proper. But when exactly does that take place each season?

Here are the upcoming dates for the third round over the next few years:

Season Third Round Date
2022/23 January 7, 2023
2023/24 January 6, 2024
2024/25 January 4, 2025

So in the current 2022/23 season, Premier League clubs will enter the FA Cup on the weekend of January 7, 2023.

The third round is always scheduled for early January each season. It’s the most exciting stage of the competition for many fans, as minnows get the chance to face giants of English football.

The Draw & Fixtures

The draw for each round of the FA Cup is completely random. That means any team can draw any other in the third round. We’ve seen plenty of David vs Goliath ties over the years.

The draw for the third round is usually made just after the second round finishes in early December. That gives a month’s build up to the fixtures.

An intriguing third round tie can capture the public’s imagination. Who can forget Hereford United of the Southern League defeating First Division Newcastle 2-1 in 1972? Or non-league Sutton United beating top-flight Coventry City in 1989?

Once the draw is made, fixtures are usually played over an action-packed weekend. Traditional 3pm Saturday kick-offs are preferred. But with so many matches, some end up on Friday night or Sunday.

Do Any Premier League Teams Ever Enter Earlier?

In extremely rare cases, it is possible for a Premier League club to enter the FA Cup before the third round.

This can happen when a top flight team gets relegated the previous season. Teams relegated from the Premier League enter the FA Cup in the second round proper.

So for example, say Team A was relegated last season. This season they would enter the FA Cup in the second round proper as a Championship club. But if they immediately won promotion back to the Premier League, they would be a Premier League team entering in round two.

However, this is very uncommon. The vast majority of Premier League clubs skip straight to round three. Even relegation strugglers stay up more often than go down.

How Far do Lower League Teams Usually Go?

When minnows draw Premier League teams in the third round, it’s their big chance to go on a cup run. But how often do lower ranked teams actually manage to beat top flight opposition?

Looking at statistics from the last 10 seasons:

  • On average, 1.5 non-league teams make it past round three each season.
  • Approximately 2.8 teams from Leagues One and Two progress.
  • So around 4-5 lower league teams beat Premier League clubs each season.

Once in a while, a real FA Cup “giant killing” occurs that captures the imagination of fans across the country. For example, in 2018 League Two side Newport County beat Premier League Leicester City 2-1 in round three.

But more often, the financial gulf between the top teams and minnows eventually tells, and lower league clubs bow out in rounds three or four. Going further than that is a real achievement.

Premier League Clubs Take it Seriously

While the FA Cup may not be the top priority for Premier League clubs with titles and European places to chase, they still take it very seriously.

Top flight teams greatly value the history and prestige of this famous old competition. They never want to be embarrassed by lower league opposition.

Most clubs will field strong lineups in the third round. It’s often the first game they play in the new year, so managers use it to get back up to speed.

Later on, if teams progress to the quarter-finals and have important league fixtures, we may see some squad rotation. But make no mistake – Premier League clubs desperately want to lift that famous old trophy come finals day.

Third Round Can Resurrect Struggling Teams

For Premier League teams that have struggled in the league, the FA Cup third round can provide a much-needed boost and confidence injection.

If results haven’t gone their way, the magic of the cup can help get their season back on track.

A strong cup run with wins over lower league teams can improve morale and momentum going back into the league. It’s a chance to rectify problems and build confidence.

Many managers have used the third round as a springboard to improve their team’s fortunes. A clean sheet, battling win and burst of goals can be just what’s needed.

Premier League Teams Want to Avoid “The Magic of the Cup”

Spirited lower league teams will be out to invoke the “magic of the FA Cup” when they draw top flight clubs. But Premier League teams want to avoid being on the receiving end of an upset.

For the underdogs, the glamour of playing a famous team from the Premier League is what the Cup is all about. Their players will be fired up to be heroes and cause an upset.

But managers of top flight clubs know complacency is dangerous. On their day, any team can beat any other in the FA Cup. That’s the beauty of knock-out football.

So Premier League teams understand they must match the desire and work rate of lower opposition. If not, they’ll succumb to shock defeats that live long in FA Cup folklore.

In Conclusion

Premier League clubs join the FA Cup in the third round proper along with the other big teams in England. This is typically scheduled for early January each season.

They get a bye through the early rounds due to their superior financial resources. This maintains the Cup’s prestige and avoids fixture congestion.

Lower league teams battle through six rounds to reach the third round. A few minnows do manage to beat top flight opposition and go on extended cup runs most seasons.

But Premier League clubs take the FA Cup extremely seriously. While they juggle other commitments, they desperately want to lift this historic trophy come finals day at Wembley.

Leave a Comment