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Is it time to bid goodbye to FA Cup replays?

The FA Cup is once again the headlines. Although Shrewsbury’s heroics should have dominated the column inches, their draw against Liverpool has raised a very pertinent question. Is it time to get rid of FA Cup replays?

With the fixture calendar bursting at the seams, FA Cup replays are the last thing that Jurgen Klopp wants. His Merseyside outfit are gunning for a first ever Premier League title. With that in mind, you can understand his declared intention to give star names a rest.

His decision to roll the dice and name a fringe squad is nothing new and Liverpool won’t be the last club to do it. However, there is one aspect to the story in which the runaway league leaders differ from the rest.

Not only is Klopp upholding the winter break for his players but also for himself. Indeed, the former Borussia Dortmund manager announced that he will be handing the managerial reigns in Liverpool’s replay to Neil Critchley. It is a decision that has brought the status of FA Cup replays back under scrutiny.

“It is a decision that has brought the status of FA Cup replays back under scrutiny”

Of course, we have already seen a similar situation this season when Liverpool were faced with a fixture clash between the Carabao Cup and Club World Cup. Although they went onto win the latter, they were dumped out of the former by eventual finalists Aston Villa.

With the matches played in different continents on consecutive days, questions were asked how they could possibly manage it. The eventual solution, a split team scenario, undoubtedly raised eyebrows. Although it was a far from a perfect solution, it was really the only viable solution for the governing bodies to greenlight.

However, with their FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury, both club and manager have come in for criticism. This time there is an underlying suspicion tat Liverpool are playing the system to enhance their chances of more important glory later in the campaign.

Perhaps it is Liverpool’s prerogative to manage their fixtures as they see fit. Whether it is right, though, is up for debate. Does the decision smack in the face of tradition? Absolutely. However, you might also ask whether it is tradition that is holding the competition, and English football, back.

Another vocal critic of FA Cup replays is Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard frequently voices his criticisms of the format. Fans of lower league clubs, however, have interpreted this view as anti-traditionalism.

However, whilst they might perceive foreign managers as failing to understand the essence of what, at one stage, was the pinnacle of any domestic season, the theory falls flat when Karl Robinson of Oxford United also chimes in.

The League One club held Newcastle to a draw at St James’ Park. Although their chairman will be delighted at the prospect of the additional revenue that come from FA Cup replays, the 39-year-old manager was just as quick to say that it was the last thing he wanted.

If the Premier League clubs complain about fixture congestion, surely those who ply their trade in the EFL have things a lot worse. League One alone has six more regular season matches than the top-flight. This is before the litany of lower level cup action they will also be involved in.

Clubs such as these might also require their last reserves of energy for an arduous play-off campaign in May. Indeed, if the likes of Oxford are to have a successful season, they might play up to 60 matches.

Therefore, the clamour to remove FA Cup replays is now coming from up and down the ladder. Perhaps a compromise might be to remove FA Cup replays from the first four rounds of the competition and play for a winner on the day. There would undoubtedly be apprehension from the powers that be. However, ultimately something must give.

“The clamour to remove FA Cup replays is now coming from up and down the ladder

If it doesn’t the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City will eventually compete in name only during the opening rounds, only breaking a sweat from the semi-finals onwards.

Some would argue that is already happening. If that is the case, the winds of change need to sweep through even quicker. Especially when you consider that just two teams outside the top six (which doesn’t even include Tottenham) have won the competition since 2000.

With this once prestigious trophy now a mere plaything for England’s elite, there needs to be more jeopardy in the competition. By scrapping FA Cup replays, the safety net is then removed.

Big teams could no longer fall back on FA Cup replays ten days later. Instead they would run the risk of getting knocked out via a penalty shoot-out. When it comes to that point, Liverpool would suddenly be on an equal footing as the likes of Shrewsbury.

With that extra level of jeopardy, the household names could fall by the wayside earlier on. It could even open up the final to teams who haven’t tasted glory in a long time. Something which then increases the allure of the competition overall.

The FA. Cup is dying a death of a thousand cuts and it will be a shame to see its legacy eroded even further. However, there is a way to slow the process this problem and, unfortuantely, FA Cup replays have to go.

 


 

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