THIS SHOULD be one of the great weekends in the sporting calendar.
But it won’t be.
Inevitably, there will be a couple of giant-killings over the next 48 hours and maybe even the odd fairytale of a non-league side progressing into the fourth round.
But the upsets will be tempered by the strength – or rather weakness – of the Premier League line-ups on show after the festive programme.
Some managers will always treat the cups with disdain, particularly if they feel a march to Wembley will detract from their survival bid.
Yet, for a fifth game in the space of a fortnight, there is no other choice than to ring the changes this weekend and introduce a handful of fringe players.
That is what the thirst for cramming as many televised fixtures as possible into the Christmas period achieves. It takes the gloss off the third round of the FA Cup.
Either the needless Premier League game on December 28 should have been scrapped, or the third round should have been held next weekend.
Sunderland’s players were clearly running on empty during the final 15 minutes at Manchester City on Thursday, and there will have to be changes from Gus Poyet tomorrow.
It’s just a question of how many.
Surely, Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez will feature after their impact from the bench at the Etihad.
Both are relatively fresh-legged and need to be given a chance to work in tandem and show what they can muster.
This is a perfect opportunity for Poyet to have a look over how he can squeeze their creativity into the Sunderland starting XI.
Liam Bridcutt, Sebastian Coates and keeper Vito Mannone also look primed for places in the side.
Bridcutt has seen his involvement over the last two games curtailed by concussion, but, after returning to training yesterday, should be fine to resume the holding role – possibly with Jack Rodwell moving further forward and handing Seb Larsson a breather.
Coates is the obvious replacement for Wes Brown, who has clearly reached the stage of his career where he struggles to play three games in a week.
And Mannone needs a run-out after being forced to play second fiddle over the last two months.
Will there be other changes? Possibly. Santiago Vergini could do with a rest, while Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore were both unused at Man City.
But Poyet has tended to restrict the rotation to five or six fresh faces in these games and he is likely to stick to that policy tomorrow.
Regardless of the changes, Sunderland should still have enough in their armoury to get the better of a struggling Leeds side.
Backed by 5,200 travelling supporters, plus a sense of nostalgia to avenge 1973, Leeds will be desperate to cause an upset and create some positivity in the cup after a rotten league campaign.
But Leeds are only a point above the Championship relegation zone for a reason, with speculation circulating over yet another managerial change earlier this week.
Doubtless Neil Redfearn’s side will be fiercely competitive, but do they have the necessary quality?
A patched-up Sunderland outfit must make their superiority count and take the first step in their bid to replicate 1973.
Verdict: Home win