Aguero new blogWhether you regard the FA Cup as an outdated inconvenience, a welcome distraction or the greatest cup competition in the world™, best enjoyed while washing down a few, crisp, smooth American lagers, you can't deny that this season's third round has been eventful.
SHOCK! League Two outfit Swindon beat Wigan (still technically a Premier League club), while Stevenage defeated Reading, Crawley eliminated Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday stunned West Ham.
SACK! Failure to beat MK Dons resulted in Queens Park Rangers sacking manager Neil Warnock.
HE'S BACK! Paul Scholes comes out of retirement and is named as a substitute in the tie which saw holders Manchester City knocked out.
SO'S HE! Thierry Henry is set to make his second debut for Arsenal this evening against Leeds after his loan deal from New York Red Bulls was confirmed on Friday.
This is why Early Doors loves FA Cup third round weekend. It's the English football equivalent of Mufti Day at school - when kids can where their own clothes instead of uniform - that provides an exciting break from the norm and injects new possibility into the usual humdrum business of term time.
The headline act was the Manchester derby at the Etihad which pitted the Premier League leaders and FA Cup holders City against Premier League champions and the Cup's all-time record winner United, and it did not disappoint.
For so many lines to come out of one match is quite extraordinary. Wayne Rooney scored twice just days after reports claimed he was on his way out of Old Trafford. United won 3-2 to gain revenge for their defeat to the same opponents in last season's semi-final and the 6-1 mauling at Old Trafford back in October. Vincent Kompany's 12th-minute red card was a debatable one that goes right to the very heart of what the definition of 'reckless' is. Roberto Mancini accused Rooney of influencing the referee into sending off the Belgian defender. City are now facing up to four matches without their captain, just after losing Yaya Toure for the African Cup of Nations.
And yet somehow, despite all that, it is City who might just be the ones to come out of the tie as the real winners.
Kompany's early ejection from proceedings led to United running riot against City's patched-up back line, and the visitors went into the break 3-0 up. Yet the Red Devils, going into the game on the back of two straight defeats, almost conspired to capitulate by letting a reorganised City pull two goals back with almost half an hour remaining.
Such a show of character in the face of adversity from City will provide them with a psychological boost as they resume chasing their top priority: the title.
Mancini said after the game: "After the way we played and the character we showed I think we can win the league now. To play like that against a team like United with only 10 players is very good."
City's performance in defeat was potentially another big step in their transformation from a collection of world stars seduced by the Sheikh Mansour 'project' (i.e. bundles of cash) into a genuine unit. Now, with no other distractions until the Europa League resumes in mid-February, they can plot an all-out assault on the league.
Kompany's absence — subject to an appeal — will see him miss the crucial clash to high-flying Tottenham, but aside from that that meeting at home with a side they beat 5-1 away back in August the defender will be banned from games against Wigan, Everton and Fulham. City earned a total of seven points from the reverse fixtures against those three teams earlier in the season.
By contrast, United were given plenty to think about despite claiming victory in the 161st Manchester derby on their neighbours' patch.
Alex Ferguson watched in shock as complacency swept through a team including many of his most senior players, something that must be eradicated with league visits to Arsenal and Chelsea coming up in the is next month.
That testing period of fixtures - which also includes games against relegation-battlers Bolton and just plain old battlers Stoke — has been augmented by them being drawn to face Liverpool away in the fourth round. That is a fixture United could have done without anyway, but given the recent furore over Luis Suarez's ban for allegedly racially abusing Patrice Evra it is set to be more combustible than ever at Anfield.
It is the sort of marquee fixture that the FA would usually love to see crop up as a shining advertisement for their own tournament, but there will have been many a grimace at Wembley when Jim Rosenthal gleefully confirmed that fixture in yesterday's draw.
Then, just to add insult to injury, the governing body will also have to contend with a potential clash between QPR and Chelsea at Loftus Road. The last time that happened, back in October, the match sparked a police investigation into allegations of racism against England captain John Terry that is still ongoing.
Back to United, and another doubt that will have arisen is the wisdom of re-signing Scholes.
In all of the excitement surrounding the derby itself and the fall-out from it, the startling fact that Scholes is actually back may not have been digested properly.
He didn't return for just the one match. His 60th-minute appearance from the bench was not a ceremonial cameo, or made in order for him to reach any particular landmark. He is a United player until the end of the season.
That means he could be running out at places like Anfield, the Emirates and White Hart Lane one last time. Were it not for United's already high calibre, then surely the bonus appearance of such a legendary player alone would be enough to raise the category of ticket prices for the club's visit.
The 37-year-old was, for the most part, the Scholes of old on his first appearance since the Champions League final. He completed 69 of his 71 passes — only two players made more in the entire 90 minutes — and was eager to get involved at every opportunity.
However, a few occasions saw him give away possession cheaply (well, twice if the stats are anything to go by), including one error which led directly to City's second goal. For all the talk of him continuing to look sharp while training with and coaching the reserves, by the end of his half-hour appearance Scholes looked shattered.
Henry's return to Arsenal has certainly moved the goalposts for what it is possible for an ageing player to do, but is Scholes's rehiring a step too far?
If Scholes can help his one and only club hold City at bay for another year then it will be an achievement even greater than United keeping his re-registration quiet for two whole days.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Easy to call me an idiot. But its harder to make decisions. [It] may be the wrong one and I'll be the idiot and I'll go but at least I'll stand up and be counted." — QPR owner Tony Fernandes reacts to criticism from fans on Twitter after sacking manager Neil Warnock.
FOREIGN VIEW: The Spanish season resumed at the weekend, but it now looks as though it's over. Barcelona needed a win following Real Madrid's 5-1 humbling of Granada, but they were held to a 1-1 draw at local rivals Espanyol. Real now have a five-point lead at the top of La Liga, meaning Barca could conceivably do the double over them and still not win the title.
COMING UP: Before this evening's commentary of Thierry Henry's return in Arsenal v Leeds United at 19:45, ED's boss is in Zurich to bring you all the live coverage of the Ballon d'Or award ceremony at 13:00. Nice gig if you can get it.
Plus Paul Parker will be bringing you his latest blog on the weekend's FA Cup action and the fourth round draw.