It’s FA Cup third round weekend, a traditional date in the calendar that always invoked talk of “the magic of the FA Cup”. It’s a trophy that has lost its shine over the past couple of decades, as Premier League era football has become such a money orientated sport. So much emphasis has also been put on Champions League qualification for the teams at the top, whilst those nearer the bottom focus on staying in a league that brings such high revenue. The FA themselves, have also played their part in the competition losing some of its shine; in recent years playing the final on a weekend with League fixtures going on around it and moving the kick off to tea-time. It’s a shame really, because it’s a trophy, one of the few major honours available to win and as much as being in competitions that provide money are great, football is still, and always will be about winning trophies.
So, who in the Premier League really does need a cup run? The inevitable fixture congestion it can bring is not to all tastes, particularly for sides fighting for their proverbial lives at the wrong end of the table for reason I’ve already mentioned, but the reward of a trophy could be a lifeline for others.
Current holders Arsenal would, no doubt, love to win it for a third consecutive year and the record holders would be making history in doing so as not since Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers in the 19th century has that feat been achieved. Putting all that aside, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are likely to be more interested in the fantastic opportunity to win the Premier League that currently presents itself. Keeping focus on that goal has to be a higher priority at The Emirates than the FA Cup and even an impending Champions League tie with Barcelona. Equally, Manchester City will have their eyes on a prize bigger than the FA Cup, though possibly for differing reasons; manager Manuel Pellegrini is coming under scrutiny with both an inconsistent Premier League campaign and Pep Guardiola making his desire to manage in England next season public knowledge. An FA Cup win alone would probably not be enough to keep him in a job, although remarkably, perhaps even winning the Premier League title could see him depart as Manchester City’s owner’s desire European success; with Dynamo Kiev awaiting them in the Champions League.
So, if Arsenal and Manchester City of the top teams are not in need of a cup run, what about those at the other end of the table with their focus elsewhere? Theoretically, any of the bottom six clubs: Swansea, Bournemouth, Norwich, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa will be more worried about keeping their best players fit for the relegation battle that lies ahead for them. Premier League survival will be seen as a higher priority; their respective Chairmen will pick staying in the Premier League above winning a trophy but getting relegated, though perhaps some of their fans may have a different outlook.
The likes of Leicester, Watford, Stoke, Southampton, Crystal Palace, West Ham and West Brom would all love a rare trophy win and for Leicester and Watford, it would cap what has been a memorable thus far, but it could be argued that they don’t need to win it. For Liverpool, the League Cup final is within touching distance, there is a Europa League campaign still on and with the current crippling list of injuries, so going all out for the FA Cup may not be the smartest move. Tottenham are currently in a strong league position, with qualification for the Champions League looking a distinct possibility and they maybe even have an outside chance of winning the Premier League this season. Therefore, as much as an FA Cup win would be welcomed, it won’t currently be seen as a necessity.
That just leaves Everton, Chelsea and Manchester United. Everton have gone over 20 years without winning a trophy, have a good squad of players and a manager in Roberto Martinez who likes to play a brand of football that is pleasing on the eye. Their league form is inconsistent and whilst they will certainly not have to worry about getting dragged into a relegation battle, they are unlikely to be finishing in the top six; couple that with their long trophy doubt and their fans are becoming restless, so Roberto Martinez and Everton are a team in need of winning the FA Cup. Chelsea have had a disastrous season, going from Champions to hovering just above the drop zone. It may have seemed unthinkable to many, but it cost Jose Mourinho his job and interim manager Guus Hiddink is already steadying the ship. Hiddink won the FA Cup in his final game as Chelsea manager, the previous time he was in interim charge and a trophy win would be exactly what Chelsea need to finish the season positively for next campaign. Finally, Manchester United have been without a trophy since the retirement of Alex Ferguson (for clarity, I don’t count the Community Shield as a trophy) and current boss Louis Van Gaal has come under pressure this year with faltering form and dour football. The Old Trafford board could be getting twitchy and casting a wishful gaze toward Pep Guardiola, so if anyone needs to win the FA Cup, it’s Van Gaal.