Much has been said this week about the FA Cup being devalued by Manchester City playing a weakened team against Chelsea on Sunday. I feel that Manchester City have been unfairly criticized. They are not the first team to field a weakened side in the FA Cup, and they wont be the last. Liverpool did it against Exeter earlier in this years competition and almost paid the cost. Many Premier League clubs have done it as they see the FA Cup as a distraction to their main aim of staying in the league, or finish as high as they can with the money that is associated with that. I feel there has only been an issue as it was a ‘glamour’ tie between the last two Premier League winners.
Manuel Pelligrini, made the point that he is doing what is best for Manchester City, and without being detrimental to the FA Cup, it looks like he is aiming for the European Cup. Considering they had to play in Kiev three days after the tie, it was understandable that he rested his key players. This may be their best chance for European glory as they have finished top of their CL group for the first time (and avoided Barcelona).
What has to be questioned is why they had to play on the Sunday night? Why couldn’t they have played on Friday or Saturday? Saturday would have been the preferred option, as Chelsea were in Paris on Tuesday. If that had happened the Arsenel v Hull game could have been played on Friday. The BBC have had matches in previous rounds on a Friday, so why not the 5th Round? Or is TV dominating the scheduling?
With the Champions League last 16 spread over four midweeks, the question about team selection for the FA cup for the bigger English clubs, will become more prevalent in future years.
I don’t think that the Premier League has been very helpful in promoting the FA Cup. Last season the Premier League scheduled a round of fixtures on New Years Day (which was a Thursday), two days before the showcase event of the 3rd Round. This led to the matches being evenly spread over the weekend, taking away from the joy of BBC Radio ‘around the grounds’ on 3rd Round Saturday. Then this year a full fixture card of midweek matches were scheduled the week after the 4th round, with several managers saying that they had to rotate their squad as the league was more important. Also the recent reporting that the FA Cup may do away with replays is not helping the cause.
So while Manchester City are getting criticism for their team selection (which following their victory in Kiev may be justified) there are many more issues related to the FA Cup that needs to considered when apportioning blame for the devaluing of the FA’s flagship competition.