In years gone by, the FA Cup, England’s oldest club competition, was viewed as the biggest and most important tournament with the exception of the Premier League.
Nowadays, the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and other elite clubs place more emphasis and effort on finishing in the top four; such is the lure of competing in the Champions League.
To attract the best footballers on the planet, you need to qualify for Europe’s primary club tournament or offer a LOT of money. Paul Pogba, who re-joined ‘struggling’ Manchester United for a world-record fee of £89 million last summer, is reportedly earning £290,000 a week, making him the highest-paid player in the Premier League.
The Old Trafford side are an exception to the ‘top four’ rule; they are the biggest club on the planet financially and that gives them the edge on their rivals. United beat Crystal Palace in the 2015-16 FA Cup final to lift the famous trophy for a joint-record 12th time but even the Red Devils have shown disrespect to the competition this year, playing a number of younger stars in previous rounds.
And whilst United have managed to get through, the decision to throw youth players into the side with no care in the world has come back to haunt a few of England’s elite sides.
In the fourth round, Liverpool crashed out of the competition after Jurgen Klopp made nine changes for the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Reds flirted with elimination in the third round when they snuck a one-goal replay win over League Two Plymouth Argyle after a goalless draw at Anfield in the first leg.
With no European football or other cup commitments, their FA Cup exit will enable Klopp’s side to harness all their efforts on finishing in the top four this season.
Even the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City; both of whom have secured easy passage through to the fifth round, have made wholesale changes for the FA Cup – nobody seems to care too much about it nowadays.
Antonio Conte’s men are clear at the top of the Premier League table and can afford to play whoever they want but Pep Guardiola’s side are under intense pressure in the fight for European qualification, hence their commitment to the domestic campaign.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sutton United’s story is unbelievable. The Conference Premier side have somehow reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, recording back-to-back giant killings against AFC Wimbledon and former winners Leeds United.
For neutrals, it has been refreshing to see Sutton’s progress through the competition and a true David v Goliath clash awaits ahead of Arsenal’s visit on February 20th.
Arsenal, priced at 9/50 to beat Sutton with 888sport, have won the competition twice in recent years but Arsene Wenger has also made changes in previous rounds. It is time for fans to realise that unfortunately, this is modern football and money is the driving force behind most of England’s top clubs.
The magic of the FA Cup still exists in the lower tiers of English football but the top Premier League sides just don’t care about the competition as much as they did in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Nowadays, it is all about the additional revenue gained from qualifying for the Champions League and that is just the way it is.