Some newspapers are calling the current FA Cup competition “the most open ever”. How often have we heard that? And how long will it be before someone writes something along the lines of, “the big clubs are not taking it seriously”? On both counts, it is total nonsense to suggest that the loss of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham are symptoms of a trend that chips away at the credibility of the competition.
Given that since 2005-06, only one cup final has not featured the big five of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Manchester United, it is clear that the big guns certainly take the competition seriously. The missing link was 2007-08 when Portsmouth played Cardiff City in Wembley’s forgotten final.
That two of the big five are already out, and two more need replays, is setting alarm bells ringing in the media. The fact is, both Liverpool and United will probably win their replays and make it three out of five in the last 16. That’s only marginally below average – only once since 2005-06 have all five reached the fifth round and beyond.
So far, 10 Premier clubs have bitten the dust and that’s not an alarming figure by any means. Last season it was also 10, although 2014-15’s 10 could rise by the time replays are out of the way. In 2012-13 and 2007-08 the figure reached 13 for Premier exits before the last 16. The average for round three is 5.67 and round four 5.0, so it’s more or less bang on target.
Of the 10 that have exited stage left, four have been giant-killed this season: QPR (Sheffield United R3), Chelsea (Bradford City R4), Manchester City (Middlesbrough R4) and Swansea (Blackburn R4). This is also not a cause for concern, although Messrs Mourinho and Pellegrini may disagree when they playback the video.
That means that six of the Premier flops have gone out to stable-mates: Everton (to West Ham), Tottenham (to Leicester), Southampton (to Palace), Newcastle (to Leicester), Burnley (to Tottenham) and Hull City (to Arsenal).
What’s prompting cries of “it’s up for grabs” is the exit of the top two of the Premier, Chelsea and Manchester City. But it is not often that the top two fight it out in the FA Cup final – since the Premier’s inception in 1992-93, only once have the top two (at the season’s end) have contested the showpiece occasion, in 2006-07 when Chelsea beat Manchester United in a dire game. In fact, in 22 finals since 1992, the league champions have reached the final just seven and the runners-up six times.
The defeats suffered by Chelsea and City will have been enjoyed by everyone other than the two clubs themselves. Bradford City will remember their 4-2 win forever, it was a genuine shock and gave the competition that old fashioned feel of a major “giant-killing”. Should we want the blue riband clubs to reach the final every year? Those that care about the fabric of such things would say absolutely not, but TV and the rest of the media are largely concerned with ratings and that means Manchester United v Liverpool every year.
The tradition of the FA Cup is that “anything can happen in next 90 minutes”. For one game, a small club can throw everything into it and come out with a shock result. They cannot possibly do it over a league campaign, because the best team will always come out on top of a league table over 38, 42 or 46 games. But they can dream of a chance of upsetting the form book. And that’s what Sheffield United, Bradford City and Middlesbrough have done this season. The departure of Chelsea and City makes the competition more interesting – put it this way, Chelsea beating Bradford City would not have made headlines. But Bradford beating Chelsea…now that’s what I call knockout football at its best!
The fifth round
Crystal Palace (Prem) v Liverpool (Prem) or Bolton (Champ.)
The most famous meeting between Palace and Liverpool was in 1990 when they fought out a 4-3 win for Palace in the semi-final. New Palace boss Alan Pardew scored the winner! Liverpool have to dispose of Bolton but they will be desperate to turn their season around through the cups. Prediction: Liverpool
Aston Villa (Prem) v Leicester City (Prem)
This Midlands derby could be very interesting. Leicester have beaten two Premier clubs already and seem to have their name written on a long run, if not the cup. The teams last met in the 2000-01 competition, with Villa losing 1-2 at home. Villa are overdue a decent run, while Leicester – who have never won the FA Cup – last reached the sixth round in 2012. Prediction: Leicester City
Bradford City (Lge One) v Sunderland (Prem) or Fulham (Champ.)
Bradford’s only meeting with Fulham in cup competitions was in the Football League Cup in 1987-88 when the Cottagers were trounced 7-2 on aggregate over two legs. They’ve never met Sunderland in the FA Cup. Prediction: Sunderland
Derby County (Champ.) v Reading (Champ.)
These two sides met in the Football League Cup this season, with Derby winning 2-0 at home.
Prediction: Derby County
Arsenal (Prem) v Middlesbrough (Champ.)
The last time these two sides met in the FA Cup was in 2001-02, with Arsenal winning 4-1 at home. The Gunners and Boro have met many times down the years in the competition, with Arsenal winning five of their seven ties. On three of those occasions – 1930, 1998 and 2002, the Gunners have gone on to win the cup.
West Bromwich Albion (Prem) v West Ham (Prem)
Albion have a poor record against the Hammers in the FA Cup and have won just once in the five occasions they have been drawn together. The last time was in 1992-93 when Albion lost 0-2 at the Hawthorns.
Blackburn Rovers (Champ.) v Stoke City (Prem)
The most recent FA Cup meeting between Rovers and Stoke was in 1961-62 at the old Victoria Ground. Blackburn came away with a 1-0 win. Prediction: Stoke City
Preston (Lge One) or Sheffield Utd (Lge One) v Cambridge United (Lge Two) or Manchester United (Prem)
Sheffield United have gained a reputation for a cup-fighting team in the past two seasons, reaching the last four of the Football League Cup this year and the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2013-14. United have made hard work of beating Yeovil and drawing at Cambridge, but you have to fancy them to come through the various permutations in this tie.
At a glance – the surviving teams:
|Last won Cup||Current Status||2013-14||2012-13||2011-12||2010-11|
|Arsenal||2013-14||Prem 5th||Winners||Round 5||Round 5||Round 6|
|Aston Villa||1956-57||Prem 15th||Round 3||Round 4||Round 4||Round 5|
|Blackburn R||1927-28||Chmp||Round 3||Round 6||Round 3||Round 4|
|Bolton W||1957-58||Chmp 16th||Round 4||Round 4||Round 6||Semi-Final|
|Bradford City||1910-11||L1 7th||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 1|
|Cambridge U||Round 6 – 1990-91||L2 13th||Round 2||4QR||Round 1||Round 1|
|Crystal Palace||Final 1989-90||Prem 13th||Round 4||Round 3||Round 3||Round 3|
|Derby County||Final 1945-46||Chmp 5th||Round 3||Round 4||Round 4||Round 3|
|Fulham||Final 1974-75||Chmp 14th||Round 4||Round 4||Round 4||Round 5|
|Leicester C||Final 1968-69||Prem 20th||Round 3||Round 4||Round 6||Round 3|
|Liverpool||2005-06||Prem 8th||Round 5||Round 4||Finalists||Round 3|
|Man.United||2003-04||Prem 4th||Round 3||Round 6||Round 4||Semi-Final|
|Middlesbrough||Final||Chmp 2nd||Round 3||Round 5||Round 4||Round 3|
|Preston NE||1937-38||L1 4th||Round 4||Round 3||Round 1||Round 3|
|Reading||Semi-Final 1926-27||Chmp 18th||Round 3||Round 5||Round 3||Round 6|
|Sheff.United||1924-25||L1 8TH||Semi-Final||Round 4||Round 4||Round 3|
|Stoke City||Final 2010-11||Prem 10th||Round 4||Round 4||Round 6||Finalists|
|Sunderland||1972-73||Prem 16th||Round 6||Round 3||Round 6||Round 3|
|WBA||1967-68||Prem 14th||Round 3||Round 3||Round 4||Round 3|
|West Ham||1979-80||Prem 7th||Round 3||Round 3||Round 3||Round 6|