Accusations that the third round of the FA Cup has become an inconvenience for top-tier clubs resurfaced this weekend following a spate of giant killings.
Following a busy festive period of fixtures squad rotation was flexed to the full extent with Manchester United making nine changes from their 2-0 league win at Newcastle in the league, and Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and others following suit.
For the Premier League’s top brass the move paid off – which is to be expected for teams with second XIs that feature stars such as Mahrez, Sanchez and Ramsey – but for other clubs lower down the food chain it proved costly.
A total of 13 teams beat higher-ranking opposition this weekend, with Newport County dispatching of Leicester City (Claude Puel made seven changes to his side), Fulham losing to Oldham at home (Ranieri made six changes to his side) and Barnet beating Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, in which Chris Wilder made 10 changes to his starting XI from their previous game.
It casts doubt on the cup’s appeal in relation to lucrative league competitions which appear to have taken precedence for most clubs, particularly the ones fighting for promotion or against relegation. There was a notable net-loss for Championship clubs in promotion-contending positions. Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Norwich City and Sheffield United all lost their respective games, and Birmingham City and Aston Villa both unceremoniously crashed out.
Many pointed the finger at the FA for a number of shortcomings that have allowed the relevance of the cup to dissipate. The Daily Mirror’s chief football writer John Cross said it’s a shame that “staggered kick-offs are in danger of killing the FA Cup”, with games played Friday to Monday in order to cash in on international TV money. Others muted that the fourth Champions League spot should go to the cup winner in order to get teams to take it more seriously.
While the magic of the cup still undoubtedly exists in the lower echelons of the football league a notable lack of appetite was evident this weekend from English football’s top teams. Unless that is reversed the cup’s spark won’t stick around for much longer.