Manchester Chelsea Feb 18 2019 Dave MacBryde

Cup Fever is Sweet FA for Some

Dave MacBryde for Sports Kitchen Entertainment Sports

Tonight’s mouth-watering clash between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge brings to a close this weekend’s FA Cup fifth round fixtures, with the draw for the last eight following shortly afterwards.

There were no shocks to speak of in the games that took place over the previous three days, with the five remaining Premier League clubs (not including Chelsea and United) overcoming lower league opposition. So, why does the feeling prevail that top sides throughout the land no longer take the FA Cup too seriously?

It’s clear that many owners of Premier League clubs would prioritise Champions League qualification — or merely staying in the division — above progress in the domestic cup competitions, depending on their respective ambitions.

Take Liverpool for example: a club flying high under Jurgen Klopp, joint top of the Premier League with a game in hand. After a below strength Reds team were dumped out of the FA Cup at the third round stage by Wolves, the squad headed for what has now become the obligatory visit to a ‘hot weather training camp’ in Dubai. While team bonding is all important, the purpose of such an elaborate trip was put into question by some after results dipped slightly following their return; disappointing draws against Leicester and West Ham respectively curtailing a seven point lead over Manchester City. Notably, Liverpool have yet to go past the fourth round in four attempts under Klopp, since his arrival in late 2015.

Meanwhile, the fourth round threw up an all-Premier League fixture between Newcastle United and Watford at St James’ Park — a seemingly winnable tie for both. Staggeringly, Rafael Benitez and Javi Gracia made 18 changes between them, before The Hornets emerged 2–0 victors.

Clearly, the financial pitfalls of relegation from the Premier League are enough to give chairman everywhere sleepless nights. However, surely a run in either of the domestic cups can galvanise players and fans alike, all the while instilling a winning momentum and keeping the season alive with the tantalising prospect of a day out at Wembley?

For many supporters who feel a strong emotional attachment to the FA Cup, this is where its perceived romanticism seems to be waning. As the oldest national football competition in the world, ‘The Cup’ is still seen as something to be treasured — not to mention a great leveller, where the smaller clubs pit their wits against the so called ‘big boys’. Indeed, the misty eyed amongst us happily regale tales of David and Goliath style ‘shocks’ to anyone who will listen.

However, for a younger generation of fans (and indeed players), the feeling is very different. Where once, FA Cup Final day was a lengthy televisual feast for fans of all clubs far and wide, recent years have seen the bizarre introduction of a 5.15pm kick off, with a nigh-on full league programme the same day. No longer does the final mark the end of the domestic football season sadly.
 
 The case of Wigan Athletic in 2013 was particularly notable; as rank outsiders, ‘The Latics’ would beat a star-studded Manchester City at Wembley to win their first ever FA Cup on May 11th. It was a historical day, which deserved a standalone finale for everyone associated with the club. However, with the last round of league fixtures scheduled a week later, Wigan would draw with Aston Villa, becoming the first ever club to win the FA Cup and be relegated from the top flight in the same season. It was a cruel end to such a memorable week.

Certainly, the lure of the Champions League and all its riches will take precedence for many modern day football supporters, with the FA Cup (and League Cup to a greater extent) proving mere distractions from a more glittering prize — both in terms of silverware and financial gain.

Even the lexicon of TV commentators has changed; where once it was a case of “Neither manager will want to lose this tie”, we now all too regularly hear “Neither manager will want a replay”, as if the very thought of another 90 minutes of football is something to abhor.

Even the lexicon of TV commentators has changed; where once it was a case of “Neither manager will want to lose this tie”, we now all too regularly hear “Neither manager will want a replay”, as if the very thought of another 90 minutes of football is something to abhor. 
 
 So much so, as of this season, there will be no replays from the fifth round onwards. The FA has stated that this is to alleviate fixture congestion. Ironically, prior to tonight’s contest at Stamford Bridge, not one of the other fifth round ties have ended in a draw.

For many of an older generation, it’s a sad state of affairs, but a reality that would be unwise to ignore, as football evolves apace. 
 
 However, even if this most venerated cup competition does hold less prestige than in years gone by, the glory of winning it should never diminish. Who said romance is dead?Following