It’s a tournament known for producing major shocks, but could we see one of the biggest of all time this season?
Emirates FA Cup fourth round, from Saturday 25 January, BBC + BT Sport
Ready to go again? The Emirates FA Cup is back with a bang this weekend, as the fourth round kicks off live on the BBC and BT Sport.
But as the tournament continues to take shape ahead of May’s final at Wembley Stadium, what chance does a team from outside of the Premier League have of winning this season’s competition? Could it actually happen, or are we just drunk on the history of the Cup?
Here, two of our writers argue it out…
Can a non-Premier League team win this season’s Emirates FA Cup?
Joe McGuire: YES! The English Football League is packed with quality
There’s plenty of talent down the pyramid
As this season’s tables testify, the English Football League is a Westworld-like realm where massive successes and gut-wrenching failures can befall your team any second. Far from the Premier League, where £15 million can be found down the back of the sofa, squads in the EFL are often made up of surprisingly sourced hidden gems and up-and-coming loanees. Brentford, QPR and Sheffield Wednesday are prime examples, with each capable of achieving promotion and stacked with enough talent to see them through solid cup runs that have every chance of culminating in an appearance at Wembley in May.
If one thing separates Portsmouth from Manchester City, it’s European competition. Whether Pompey will still be fighting for the FA Cup when City’s UEFA Champions League campaign kicks into top gear (and has Guardiola sweating inside his knee-length knitted coat) remains to be seen, but such distractions could well prove to be the undoing of some Premier League teams. As European campaigns intensify, “weakened” Premier League sides could be there for the taking for teams hailing from the EFL.
The Magic of the Cup
Unquantifiable by science and ridiculous as it may seem, ignore it at your peril. Sure, you could say Millwall’s win over Everton last season was down to highly questionable officiating and an “aggressive” style of play from the Lions. But you’d be wrong, for it was in fact, THE MAGIC OF THE CUP. Giant killings are a given in this competition, the pull of a rainy Saturday night fixture against United at Old Trafford suddenly prompting Barnsley to play like Brazil. It does strange things to teams, this so-called “magic”. It’s swept unlikely teams to the final before, and can definitely do so again.
Jack Prescott: NO! The gulf between the Premier League and the rest is too big
One word: Liverpool
The World, European and, let’s face it, Premier League champions are just too darn good right now. For Jürgen Klopp and his players, this year’s competition is very much theirs to lose. Even Liverpool’s third-string side is decent, as proven during their victory over local rivals Everton in the last round. And if the Reds somehow mess up winning the FA Cup for what would be an eighth time, then Manchester City are ready to pounce like an expensively assembled pack of jackals. For teams in the EFL, resistance is futile when the cream of the Premier League crop is so, well, creamy.
History is against lower-league clubs
The last time a team from outside the Premier League reached the FA Cup final? That would be 2008, when Championship side Cardiff City lost to Portsmouth. The last time a team from outside the top flight got their hands on the trophy was in 1980, when West Ham stunned Arsenal. That’s 40 years ago. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore, despite The Magic of the Cup. Yes, you should expects shocks, surprises, twists and turns in this season’s competition (after all, that’s why we love it), but when it comes to the crunch, winning the tournament is now the sole preserve of the Premier League.
Promotion changes everything
While it’s fair to suggest clubs from the Premier League could prioritise European competition over the FA Cup, EFL sides could find themselves in a situation where they’re having to put this historic tournament on the back burner. Promotion – and the vast sums of money involved, particularly for Championship sides – is everything. Ask any chairperson whether they would rather get their mitts on the Cup or gain promotion to the next tier and the answer would be clear. This is how cash has warped the footballing landscape. The FA Cup as an inconvenience? Who’d have thought?
Live Emirates FA Cup fourth-round matches on TV
Northampton Town v Derby County
Friday 24 January, kick-off 8pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
QPR v Sheffield Wednesday
Friday 24 January, kick-off 8pm, BT Sport Extra 1
Brentford v Leicester City
Saturday 25 January, kick-off 12.45pm, BBC One HD (CH 101)
Hull City v Chelsea
Saturday 25 January, kick-off 5.30pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
Manchester City v Fulham
Sunday 26 January, kick-off 1pm, BBC One HD (CH 101)
Tranmere Rovers v Manchester United
Sunday 26 January, kick-off 3pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
Shrewsbury Town v Liverpool
Sunday 26 January, kick-off 5pm, BBC One HD (CH 101)
Bournemouth v Arsenal
Monday 27 January, kick-off 8pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
But wait! You can watch even more FA Cup action on BBC iPlayer
Head to BBC iPlayer over the fourth round weekend to enjoy a pop-up FA Cup Channel packed with highlights, goals, the BBC’s live matches and classic games from the Beeb’s archives all day Saturday and Sunday (Bradford fans might remember a certain 2015 tie against Chelsea…). Not only that, you’ll be able to switch between alternative commentaries, or even go commentary free.
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