IT IS FA Cup Third Round weekend over in England and this is usually where the ‘genuine’ title-contenders enter the competition and where the media get to enjoy the first ‘giant-killing’ narrative that walks hand-in-hand with the world’s oldest cup competition.
The old cup, once as desirable as the league competition has seen its flame dulled significantly with the growing prominence (read more money) of the Premier League and Champions League.
Still, it does have its admirers and, in fairness, does offer an admirable chance for the little guy to take a swing at a heavyweight, who may disdainfully even find the Champions League too mundane in a world where club owners dream of Super-League riches.
As of writing this, Man United and Everton’s Friday evening clash had yet to be played so we don’t know if Erick ten Hag’s men are concentrating on their Premier League top-four bid or have got the better of Everton, heaping more pressure on the Toffees’ manager Frank Lampard, whose side had just come out of a humiliating 4-1 home league defeat at the hands of Brighton and Evan Ferguson on Tuesday night.
Let us look, therefore, at the contenders for the crown among the rest of the Premier League’s top six.
Arsenal, to their credit, maintained the gap at the top of the table ahead of Man City and now have the opportunity of waiting until Monday night to see how the rest of the sides fare, when they face Oxford United at Kassam Stadium.
In recent years, the Gunners had become FA Cup experts but mostly in lieu of Premier League success. The North Londoners claiming four titles in the past 10-years. And while this side is probably a lot better than those cup-winning sides, it will be interesting to see if they will give the same commitment to the competition as they once did, now that the club actually has the Premier League title prize within their grasp.
Still, the club has a record 14 FA Cups to their name so they can’t be accused of snubbing the competition and may like the idea of keeping that boast. Either way, it’s hard to see Oxford United being the ones to upset their run for 15.
Manchester City’s last FA Cup title win was 2019’s 6-0 demolition of Watford and prior to that, 2011’s 1-0 edgy win over Stoke. So despite dominating the English game of late, claiming five of the last six Premier League crowns, Pep Guardiola has overall tended to shy away from fully committing to the secondary competition.
And again it will be interesting to see how they line up for probably the toughest match in the draw when they play a Chelsea side, who have lost the last three FA Cup finals, at home tomorrow evening, just three days after beating them narrowly 1-0 In the Premier League at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
Despite Newcastle winning the FA Cup six times in their history, The Toon has not been a regular visitor of late to Wembley. The two towers were still standing when they made their last visit for a final in 1999 and they have not won the cup since 1955. And while their new-found Saudi riches sees them now vying for a Premier League title or a Champions League spot at least, the hunger for success among their long-suffering fanbase means they will unlikely turn their nose up at claiming a trophy of such esteem along the way. They should be up for it and too good for home side Sheffield Wednesday this evening.
Tottenham Hotspur have an impressive eight FA Cup titles to their name but have to look back to their glory days of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker in the team for their last cup win in 1991. More disturbing for a club of their size and stature is that they have not got within a donkey’s roar of making the final ever since, even though Wembley is just 16km down the road.
One would expect them to get the better of Portsmouth at home this afternoon, but we would also not be surprised to see them make another heart-breaking/hilarious exit either.
Defending champions Liverpool ended their own 16-year wait to claim their eight FA Cup title. Indeed, it proved to be the highlight of their season with the Carabao Cup being their only other triumph in a season that saw them just come up short in the Premier League and Champions League final.
The Reds have been in poor form since then and it will be interesting to see if they will concentrate on retaining the cup in a testing clash against Wolves, or cash-in all their energies in battling to claim a lucrative Champions League place. The later probably being the financial priority whatever the romantics feel about this venerable cup competition.