By Reece Chambers
With FA Cup fifth round replays played last week, fans were made to embrace the cold conditions for yet another fixture. And, whilst price of football rises as well as the number of fixtures being played, it begs the question: are FA Cup relays necessary?
One of the biggest issues that FA Cup replays pose is the distraction it has from the league campaign. Rochdale, for instance, sit bottom of League One but a trip to Wembley to face Spurs in a replay was a complete distraction.
Whilst it is hard to argue that the Rochdale players would turn down such an opportunity at the national stadium, that is an extraordinary circumstance that ignores the core issues of most FA Cup replays.
Rochdale’s trip to Wembley may have drained the players of much needed energy they need for a crucial end of season relegation battle. If the replays were scrapped, The Dale would have had extra-time and a penalty shootout to contend with at Spotland – instead of a long trip to London and back.
As it were, Rochdale’s VAR-dominated performance at Wembley may well have given them rejuvenated hope for the remainder of the season; despite a 6-1 thrashing. Nevertheless, the distraction rendered from the replay may well prove fatal for the rest of the season. In The Dale’s case, there is a fine line between inspiration and distraction, but the replay system indicates a hint towards the latter.
Meanwhile, Swansea’s replay at home to Sheffield Wednesday may illustrate the inappropriate nature of replays even more. In this case, Swansea are currently fighting for Premier League survival. And, with a squad much weaker and smaller than their Premier League counterparts, a cup replay versus Championship side Sheffield Wednesday probably wasn’t at the top of Carlos Carvalhal’s agenda.
Their move to the next round of the tournament is a positive for the club, but perhaps extra-time and penalties at Hillsborough in the original tie would have suited better. In doing so, both clubs would have saved much needed energy for a vital stage of the league campaign.
Furthermore, FA Cup replays give powerful Premier League clubs an advantage over the lower league clubs. Such strength in depth, particularly in the top half of the Premier League, is unrivalled anywhere else in the English Football League.
With that in mind, Premier League clubs have the advantage over other clubs in being able to field various international players whilst lower league clubs struggle to survive with smaller squads. Spurs’ 6-1 win at home to Rochdale was perhaps the clearest example in which the second half saw Spurs score five goals with a much stronger and fitter pool of players to choose from.
FA Cup replays, too, give managers just another excuse for why their team isn’t performing to its potential. Over the years, the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have blamed FA Cup replays more than other managers. They argue that the replays drain more energy out of their players than necessary.
Whilst this can be true, the sides of the squads at clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal should not be influenced as much as lower league sides. Therefore, the replay system gives managers another excuse to point towards other than their own personal performance.
Alarmingly, the replay system could possibly hamper the excitement of the original FA Cup fixtures. For instance, if a fifth-round match is at 0-0 with 5 minutes to play, teams may settle for the draw – knowing that a replay could give them a better chance of progressing. Therefore, the potential of a replay means that teams often don’t push for a winning goal in the closing stages of matches; resulting in a lack of ambition and excitement in the competition.
Consequently, FA Cup replays should be abolished and replaced with extra time and penalties in the original tie. If that were to be implemented, clubs and fans alike would be spared energy and money that could otherwise be put into the final stages of the league season.