While you may have grown tired of the FA Cup over the years, there are several reasons why it’s still very much alive and important. For starters, it’s the oldest association football competition in the world, getting its start all the way back in 1871.
Secondly, it’s the tournament that showcases just about every club in England, ranging from the Premier League all the way down to the eighth tier in English football. And while those within the lower leagues rarely make it past the preliminary rounds, it’s a wonderful experience for them and supporters alike.
For lower league sides that make it into the third, fourth, or fifth rounds of the cup, the potential for an upset over say, a Premier League side, increases. While the chances are often quite slim, it provides the underdog, in this case, with a nice opportunity to go up against a top-flight side that they may never cross paths with again.
Such will be the case this year when Manchester United visit Shrewsbury Town, a League One side that is currently near the bottom of the table. We’ve seen this United side play down to or below their level of opposition all season, so while the matchup on paper looks like a rout, don’t expect Shrewsbury to roll over. We can always count on a little FA Cup magic, right?
On a very basic level, it’s a trophy. As we know, such things are the end-all in football. The prestige that can come with winning an FA Cup shouldn’t be underestimated, even if it’s just a one-off. And in the case of such, said winner will be entered into the qualifying stages of next year’s Europa League. Again, just because chances of getting past the qualification stages as a lower league side are slim, it doesn’t take away from the special and typically rare opportunity.
Looking at the remaining field of 16, there are five, possibly six lesser clubs that will have a chance to provide some cup magic: the aforementioned Shrewsbury, Reading, Leeds United, Blackburn, Hull Citya��who fell down to the Championship after last season, and Portsmoutha��if they win their replay against West Brom.
As for Premier League sides, Chelsea and Manchester City drew each other, meaning there will be one less giant when the competition reaches the quarterfinal stage. Yes, I understand how underwhelming the Blues have been; that doesn’t mean their quality on paper should be discounted. With Manuel Pellegrini confirming this morning that he’ll be leaving City at the end of the season, we’ll see if that causes a stir in the dressing room going forward.
My money would be on no, as it seems this was just a matter of making it official over the past month or so.
Then there’s Arsenal, who’ve won two cup titles in a row and the most overall at 12, going up against Hull Citya��the side they came back to defeat during the 2013-14 final. After their cushy away fixture against Colchester this past Saturday, Tottenham has a stiffer test ahead of them: Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane, who they defeated 1-3 away just over a week to go.
It’d be too easy, and at the same time almost illogical, to predict the semi finals consisting of United, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpoola��who still have to win their replay against West Ham to get to Round 5a��but it’s interesting to think about. There’s a lot of FA Cup history between all four sides, in fact.
As mentioned, Arsenal have won the cup 12 times, more than any other side. But just behind them are United, who have been stuck on 11 since 2003-04; Tottenham with eight, their last coming back in 1990-91; and finally Liverpool, who have secured seven such trophiesa��their last during the 2005-06 campaign.
And while it’s always nice to see a little magic from the underdogs in the competition, it’s also reassuring to see several bigger sides taking this as seriously as they are. With the fifth round resuming February 19, we’re just two matches from Wembley, and there’s plenty of fun to look forward to.