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The FA cup, the oldest club competition in world football, returned with the illustrious third round on January 7th – the traditional giant killing round, a chance for minnows to take centre stage. The ties were beautifully poised for shocks to occur, with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea all drawn against lower league opposition, as well as 3 non-league sides remaining in the hat.
For football fans, it’s a widely anticipated event in the footballing calendar.
Even though Plymouth achieved a historic draw at Anfield, the rest of the round seemed rather underwhelming and slightly lacklustre. This was perhaps due to the lack of major shocks. Millwall provided arguably the result of the day, thumping Premier League Bournemouth 3-0 at home. Out of context, both these results appear remarkable, however when the information that Liverpool’s starting 11 was, on average, their youngest ever, and that Bournemouth made 11 changes to their side, makes these results seem a little bit more believable.
This article will outline reasons why I believe the FA cup is slowly losing its magic and appeal.
Firstly, top sides just don’t take the cup as seriously anymore. It’s important that young players are given game time to help their development, however when a whole starting line-up averages just 21 years old, it’s embarrassing and disrespectful. This is the case for Liverpool, whose reserves failed to beat a stubborn Plymouth side, who, I believe, had they bothered to actually try and win the game as oppose to waiting for a money-spinning replay, could have won.
Other examples are, of course, Bournemouth, and despite naming strong sides, Stoke and West Brom. For these three sides, the FA Cup represents the only chance of silverware, and a solid mid-table season with a cup run would be seen as a successful season. However, both Stoke and West Brom failed to show up in their home games against Championship opposition, and both were dumped out of the cup. The only reason I could suggest as to why this happened is because of the fear of a cup run damaging league form. In recent times, Hull, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Wigan have all seen their league form suffer as a result of a strong FA cup run, meaning that a trophy that was once desirable is now potentially a poisoned chalice.
Secondly, another reason why the cup isn’t as appetising for Premier League sides is due to the lack of star-studded opposition. For example, just 13,000 watched Watford breeze past Burton Albion, a whopping 9,000 people less than those who saw the Hornets beat Manchester United earlier in the season.
This may not be true for Watford, but it certainly will be for a lot of teams, that if the price is the same or only a few pounds less to watch your side play against, no disrespect, a side from the Football League or to watch Manchester United, then it’s a no brainer why the attendances around the grounds was so poor. And a poor crowd means a lack of excitement on the pitch.
I feel a massive reduction in ticket prices for certain games may increase the interest in the FA Cup.
Thirdly, smaller sides fear the bigger sides. Both Reading and Peterborough bowed out to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively with a whimper. Both sides were lucky to have only conceded 4. The same applies to Plymouth who sat back and defended all game against Liverpool, albeit with a different outcome. When sides go out and attack the Premier League sides, due to the previously mentioned point regarding lack of serious thought toward the FA cup, they get results. Derby beat West Brom, Wolves beat Stoke, Norwich drew with Southampton and Bolton drew with Palace. Preston also went and attacked Arsenal, however Arsenal’s quality shone through in the end.
This brings me onto the final point; the strength of the real top sides, such as Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, is too vast for a lower league side. Tottenham’s reserve striker Vincent Jansen’s £18million price tag, rightly or wrongly, probably costs more than the whole of League 2, so for that reason I believe that if Tottenham were to put out even a half-strength side against Wycombe in the fourth round then they will have no difficulty. Chelsea played a few of their reserves against Peterborough, and this side contained £32 million man Michy Batshuayi and, for a brief period of time at least, John Terry. This shows the extreme strength of the top 6 super sides from England, who, unless they draw each other, are virtually nailed on for places in the quarter finals.
Providing Plymouth don’t beat Liverpool, the top 6 from the premier league, and last season’s champions Leicester, will all still be in the hat for round 4.
So, we can virtually kiss goodbye to anymore Hereford vs Newcastle style shocks.