The magic of the FA Cup is so-say alive and well after a weekend in which Wolves, Lincoln, Oxford and Sutton all pulled off superb ‘shock’ wins.
Alternatively, the big boys have yet again shown that for them, the only magic thing about the cup is letting their best players have a weekend off.
I lost count of how many times I heard teams had made nine or ten changes for their cup games. Gary Neville – probably the least nonsensical pundit about – tweeted that he thinks teams are right to blood their youngsters in the cup. One or two, perhaps. Not eight or nine.
Of all the teams who let themselves down with their team selection this weekend, Southampton are the ones with the most to apologise for.
The Saints aren’t going to win the league. They aren’t going to qualify for Europe via the league. They also aren’t going to get relegated. They’ve had a great run in the League Cup and deservedly booked their place in the final in midweek.
A home tie against Arsenal – who they beat on their way in the League Cup – live on TV, was a chance to progress again. Chuck it all at the cups. Give the paying fans something to get excited about.
They did at least reduce ticket prices to £15 for the game, but that in no way excuses the line-up Claude Puel named. Arsenal were not at full strength by a long chalk, but that they could canter to a 5-0 win says a lot more about Puel’s chosen side than the Gunners.
Liverpool’s exit was avoidable but not at all surprising as Jurgen Klopp failed to learn any lessons from the previous round against Plymouth, while Brighton and Newcastle were also perhaps guilty of taking their opponents too lightly.
Those two though are a little more understandable – they are desperate to win promotion this season and a cup run alongside 46 league games is a lot. I still think, however, they have let themselves down.
Spurs, 4-3 winners over Wycombe in dramatic fashion, also made a raft of changes, but their side should have done better. It wasn’t brimful of kids, it had plenty of experienced players in there but so early had to do it all again at Adams Park next week.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see the underdogs having their day. But something needs to be done to ensure that the FA Cup becomes a priority for the big clubs, not an inconvenience. The quality of the competition suffers with these second-string teams, and I’m sure everyone will be praying that Lincoln and Sutton aren’t paired together in the draw.
The FA Cup – and its final – used to be known around the world. I still think for most fans it’s massive. But the clubs – especially those at the very top – just don’t seem to get that anymore.