London:Chelsea begins its defense of the FA Cup with what should be a routine home game against second-tier club Watford on Sunday, and manager Carlo Ancelotti has to decide whether to rest Michael Ballack, John Terry and Frank Lampard.
With the Premier League campaign taking a break at the halfway stage, the focus turns to the third round of the cup and the topflight teams have largely managed to avoid each other as they enter the competition.
That puts the coaches into a dilemma as they decide whether to run the risk of disrespecting the game's oldest and most prestigious cup competition by resting their best players.
Ancelotti's team leads the Premier League by two points, and the Italian may well give some of the key players a break and take a look at some of his backup squad, especially those who have made few starts.
"Together, we took this decision to maintain this squad because we think this squad is a good squad, is able to play the games we have in January, and we have a possibility to give an opportunity _ a great opportunity _ to the young players if it's necessary," he said.
Manchester United holds the record of 11 FA Cup triumphs and has a tricky home game against runaway League One leader Leeds on Sunday. In the past, such a matchup would have been one of the games of the season but Leeds' decline to the third tier has meant that a victory at Old Trafford would now be regarded as a major upset.
With his team just behind Chelsea in the Premier League and with a League Cup semifinal meeting with neighbor Manchester City to come, manager Alex Ferguson will probably give the likes of Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic a rest.
Ferguson has won the FA Cup five times.
Likewise, Liverpool is likely to let Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard sit out Saturday's visit to Reading, another team from the League Championship which has never won the cup.
The scorer of Liverpool's injury-time winner in a 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Tuesday, Torres has been hampered by injuries and Gerrard is only just back to full fitness.
Of the traditional top four, only Arsenal faces Premier League opposition in West Ham. But manager Arsene Wenger usually gives his young backup players a start in cup competitions and is unlikely to change that policy, even though his side goes to Upton Park on Sunday with Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott sidelined.
Aston Villa-Blackburn and Wigan-Hull are the only other two matches involving topflight teams. Villa and Blackburn have won the cup a combined 13 times, while neither Wigan nor Hull have been in the final.
Eight-time FA Cup winner Tottenham will be confident of a home victory over Peterborough, which is last in the League Championship. That will give manager Harry Redknapp the chance to rest some of his usual starters so they can concentrate on staying in the top four in the Premier League.
Big-spending Manchester City has a tricky game at Middlesbrough, which was relegated from the Premier League last season.
Sunderland hopes to avoid the embarrassment of losing at home to non-league Barrow and the same applies to Stoke, which welcomes York.
Unbeaten in 11 games, Birmingham climbed to its highest ever Premier League position but goes to dangerous Nottingham Forest, which is third in the League Championship.
Of the other Premier League teams facing sides from the lower divisions: Everton hosts Carlisle, Fulham welcomes Swindon, Bolton meets Lincoln and last-place Portsmouth takes on Coventry at home. Wolves goes to Tranmere and Burnley visits Milton Keynes Dons.