The FA Cup may be the world’s oldest organised knockout competition but are England’s biggest clubs treating it disrespectfully?
The League Cup, under its various guises, has already suffered with few Premier League sides taking the competition seriously until the Wembley arch is in sight. Staying in the top flight and the riches that it brings with it has become all consuming. There are those who argue that the possibility of Champions League football has corrupted how managers and fans view the English cup competitions, a theory backed up by some team selections and results in the third round of the FA Cup.
The most glaring example came at the City Ground where West Ham fielded three debutants among nine team changes from their last game at Fulham. The Hammers face Manchester City in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-finals on Wednesday and manager Sam Allardyce feels he was justified in fielding a weakened team against Nottingham Forest, who beat the Londoners 5-0. There is an injury crisis at Upton Park but there are rules in place in other competitions, like the Johnstones Paint Trophy, which forbid just the sort of thing that Allardyce did at the City Ground. It is not giving fans value for money or treating the tournament with the respect it deserves. Can you imagine how greats like Sir Stanley Matthews would have felt if told he was being left in the stands so they didn’t get hurt for a match that was important than an FA Cup tie?
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert was also less than enthusiastic about the competition prior to his side’s home defeat by League 1 Sheffield United so perhaps got what he deserved. Manchester United, without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, were also early casualties but perhaps David Moyes had a legitimate excuse for his side’s failure to survive an Old Trafford encounter with Swansea, though it will be interesting to see what happens when the Swans return to Manchester for a Premier League fixture next weekend.
The exit of a number of Premier League clubs has certainly shaken up betting for the FA Cup with Manchester City, winners in 2012 and losing finalists last year, 9/2 clear favourites at William Hill even though they have to replay against Blackburn Rovers before facing either Bristol City or Watford in the fourth round. Chelsea are 5/1 with the same firm and Ladbrokes having been paired with Stoke City in round four while Arsenal, who will play League 1 Coventry City at the Emirates next, are also 5/1 at William Hill. Holders Wigan Athletic are 250/1 with BetVictor having been held to a draw by the MK Dons at the DW Stadium.