Manchester will be the epicentre of the third round of the FA Cup after City were drawn to play United yesterday. Nine months after knocking them out at the semi-final stage – and three months after inflicting on Sir Alex Ferguson his greatest managerial defeat – Roberto Mancini will lead City out against United at the Etihad Stadium.
It is the toughest imaginable opening to a defence of the FA Cup and it will be only the second time that City will have played at home against United in the competition. In 1955, they beat United 2-0 at Maine Road and went on to reach the final. For the third successive time, United have been given a third-round draw against one of their great rivals. In 2010, they were beaten 1-0 by Leeds United and last season they faced Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Chelsea, in contrast, have continued their habit of straightforward-looking FA Cup ties at home. Portsmouth are the eighth successive lower-league club to be drawn to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the third round, in a re-run of the 2010 final that sealed the second part of Carlo Ancelotti's double.
Just as they did in last year's third round, Arsenal have been drawn to play Leeds at the Emirates Stadium. Then, the Yorkshire club were unlucky not to have repeated their triumph at Old Trafford and only a last-minute Cesc Fabregas penalty saved Arsène Wenger's side from elimination. The replay at Elland Road was won comprehensively, 3-1. Despite the complete mess that Tottenham have made of their Europa League campaign, their tie with Cheltenham would have been a little more daunting for Harry Redknapp's side had they been required to play at Whaddon Road rather than White Hart Lane.
Tamworth will be grateful for the extra revenue a third-round tie at Goodison Park will produce, and will be aware Everton have been vulnerable to cup upsets under David Moyes.
For the romance to be sprinkled generously on the competition, Fleetwood Town will need to beat Yeovil in their second-round replay so that they can host last season's darlings of the Premier League, Blackpool, their nearest and perhaps not so dearest.
Bolton, last season's semi-finalists but now consistently vulnerable, will be at risk of giant-killing whoever they face. However, a tie away to Chelmsford City, who drew 1-1 with Macclesfield, would see Bolton pitched against a side five divisions below them.
The reward for the winners of the replay between Southend and Oldham is a trip to Anfield. Should Paul Sturrock's men prevail, it will set up a sixth meeting between Southend and Liverpool in the competition, although Liverpool have won only twice.
There are two other fascinating encounters. One will be an authentic third-round tie where a Premier League club travels down the divisions as Aston Villa go to Bristol Rovers, who crushed Totton 6-1 yesterday.
The other sees the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, return to Gillingham, the club he led to the 1999 play-off final that should have seen Manchester City remain in the third tier of English football. That they won the penalty shoot-out, began the sequence of events that will see them take on Manchester United in the third round and be favourites to win through.
Third round draw
Middlesbrough v Shrewsbury Town
Nottingham Forest v Leicester City
Manchester City v Manchester United
Dagenham & Redbridge/Walsall v Millwall
Crawley Town v Bristol City
Doncaster Rovers v Notts County
Bristol Rovers v Aston Villa
Tottenham Hotspur v Cheltenham Town
Sheffield Wednesday v West Ham United
Milton Keynes Dons v Queen's Park Rangers
Hull City v Ipswich Town
Coventry City v Southampton
Brighton & Hove Albion v Wrexham
Fulham v Charlton Athletic
Birmingham City v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Norwich City v Burnley
Arsenal v Leeds United
Derby County v Crystal Palace
Fleetwood Town/Yeovil v Blackpool
Swindon Town v Wigan Athletic
Barnsley v Swansea City
Chelmsford City/Macclesfield Town v Bolton Wdrs
Newcastle United v Blackburn Rovers
Everton v Tamworth
Sheffield United v Salisbury City/Grimsby Town
Liverpool v Southend United/Oldham Athletic
Gillingham v Stoke City
Chelsea v Portsmouth
Watford v Bradford City
Peterborough United v Sunderland
West Bromwich Albion v Cardiff City
Reading v Stevenage
Ties to be played over weekend of 7/8 January.