Recently, the FA Cup third round occurred, and this stage is perhaps one of the most important across the entirety of the tournament, as here clubs from the top two tiers of English football entering. Yet, EFL sides and semi-professional teams are still amongst those competing, and with £67,500 on offer for the winners of these matchups, the motivation to advance to the latter stages seems to have been elevated. Most importantly though, may be the opportunity for clubs to challenge themselves in matchups versus Premier League opposition, and provide a stage for their players, and the clubs themselves, to compete versus the most accomplished players in English football.
Predominately due to fixture congestion, in addition to perhaps providing an opportunity for EFL and semi-professional clubs to compete, and achieve, in the tournament, it is at this stage which the 44 top tiered clubs enter the competition, joining the 20 clubs advancing from the previous round. Victory may provide an incentive to the clubs to add the FA Cup to their trophy cabinet, as a win places them one step closer to the final, and with five victories standing between now and winning the entire competition, the vast majority of teams may be looking to etch their names into the history books.
The first tie of the round competed between two Premier League sides in Manchester City and West Ham, both of whom were previous winners of the competition, yet it was the away side who entered the hat for the fourth round, emerging victorious via a 5-0 score line in the first FA Cup game in the Olympic Stadium. League leaders Chelsea hosted Peterborough, with the Blues seeming to utilise their previous fixture with Tottenham; although they were on the receiving end of a 2-0 score line, the team seemed to gain motivation, and Conte’s seeming faith in youth provided dividends as the club emerged 4-1 winners.
Yet, it seemed other teams played at a high level, emerging victorious versus clubs who boasted of the superior ranking. Most notably, Bournemouth, currently sitting in 9th in the Premier League, travelled to The Den to face Millwall, and Eddie Howe seemed to place priority on his team’s league form, overseeing eleven changes from the previous fixture. Millwall’s faith with their unique team seemed to provide dividends, with goals from Morison, Cummings, and Ferguson instigating the victory. The tournament as such seems to provide a platform for these EFL clubs to compete versus the top teams, enhancing their abilities whilst simultaneously contesting for silverware.
With the inclusion of the EPL clubs, there may have been a suggestion of those matches perhaps being the most intriguing, yet it seemed another team gained the focus. Stourbridge, of the Northern Premier League, started the round as the sole representative of the seventh tier, and, although Adebayo Akinfenwa’s header resulted in a Wycombe victory, they may still utilise the match in a productive manner, perhaps continuing their form to mount a title charge. Other semi-professional clubs also competed in the third round, with some entering the draw for the fourth; both Lincoln and Sutton earned replays versus superior ranked opposition after the seeming prioritisation of a resolute backline seemed to result in the nullifying of their opponents. These credible results may ultimately motivate the sides to contest for a place in the record books, and with this season marking the 136th edition of the tournament, perhaps a semi-professional team may add their names to the list of ever-expanding victors for the first time.
Whilst perhaps the EPL sides may be favourites for the trophy due to both fitness and player quality, other clubs may be in a superior position to claim the trophy; with European glory, and Premiership success pivotal, perhaps there is a prioritisation of these trophies rather than the FA Cup, and with £1.8 million available for the winner, the monetary incentive may be further motivation. Yet, with multiple clubs possessing desire to cement their place in the record books, and with any of the aforementioned teams seemingly possessing trophy-winning quality, the tournament may ultimately be becoming a more intriguing spectacle.
How may the tournament continue to benefit all English clubs, and perhaps continue to boast a reputation as an important cup competition?