FA Cup third round day has become a calendar event that has lost all meaning to most United fans. Since 2006 we have only won 3 times in the third round. Furthermore, we have lost all three of the subsequent fourth round games. It’s become pointless to get excited about the FA Cup as we haven’t had a proper run in it since Alan Shearer retired.
The most common explanation given for our wretched record is that the club, under Ashley, do not prioritise the cups. Whilst we all know there is some truth in there, I always thought there was some hypocrisy about this theory.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, there aren’t many, if any, clubs left that won’t use the FA Cup 3rd Round to rotate a few underused players for a few needing a rest after the Christmas period. Everybody does it. Rafa does it.
Alas, the bigger hypocrisy comes from any fan accusing the club of not prioritising cup games, who then chooses not to attend the match. As I write this, tickets for Birmingham have gone on public sale. There haven’t been many games this season that have got that far as points & memberships sell out most allocations. Alone, that doesn’t make much of a statement; you have to look back at home draws to really see what I am saying (and to be fair there haven’t been too many):
Cardiff (h) 2014 – 31,166
Blackburn (h) 2012 – 30,876
Hull (h) 2009 REPLAY – 31,380
Obviously, I’m not having a go at our fans; these are still good crowds because every club is guilty of it. The point is that the FA Cup is no longer prioritised by anybody – fans, manager, and clubs alike. We have been guilty of fielding some really weak sides in recent years but we’ve also put out some strong ones and still lost. We’ve also had some pretty shoddy draws. I don’t think we have devalued the cup as a club, merely had a run of bad draws, bad performances and bad managers.
Now, with Rafa Benitez in charge, you just know that we have more chance of winning in any competition than in any of the last 10 years. Whilst he will no doubt do a bit of rotating for this one, Rafa sees the value of a cup run, as opposed to those who see it as a distraction. We have lost 3/7 games since going out of the League Cup compared with losing only 2/13 when still in the draw. Winning games makes you more likely to win more games. It’s that simple, and Rafa gets it. Momentum is huge!
So today we visit a Birmingham City side that sacked their manager and appointed Gianfranco Zola after we smashed them in our best performance of the season last month. He’s only won 1 game since, at home to a struggling Ipswich. A totally baffling managerial change and we have no real excuse not to take advantage and put them to the sword.
We can’t be surprised to see Rafa change things round for this one. We really need to see what Murphy can do at this stage in the season. Mitro looks to be on the way out. If that’s the case, he won’t play but if Rafa really wants to keep him then
this may yet be his chance to turn a corner. I’d prefer Murphy to get his chance.
The goalkeeping situation is anyone’s guess. Rafa won’t have written off Sels so I’d expect him to come back in. If he does we should just get behind him and try and help him regain his confidence. Nobody wants to see a player fail. A player with no confidence is of no use OR VALUE to Rafa and United.
In any case, I don’t think anyone will be fully “rested”. I.e. If Ritchie and Gayle don’t start and we aren’t winning the game, expect them to be off the bench as required. Rafa doesn’t want to lose football matches. We won’t lose this one. Fuck it, we’re gunna win the cup.
SIMON CAMPBELL – Follow Simon on @simoncampbell11
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