A decade ago the FA Cup was declared dead as a competition when lowly Portsmouth scrapped it out with Cardiff in the final. The big teams had lost interest in it, fielding weak sides in order to concentrate on the Premiership and the Champions League, and its prestige was in the gutter. Yet the world’s oldest association football competition has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence over the past few years, as elite managers begin to take it increasingly seriously once more.
There are now at least six massive teams in England, replete with ambitious, highly paid managers and superstar players. This was not the case a decade ago, and it is a result of the sheer spiralling wealth of the Premier League, with its TV deals and foreign owners. These individuals all crave silverware to match their eye-watering pay cheques, but the Premiership is more competitive than ever, so the FA Cup offers another vital shot at glory.
The last five FA Cups have been monopolised by Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd, showing just how important it has become to the big clubs once again. Since that Portsmouth victory, Wigan Athletic – conquerors of Man City in a bizarre 2013 final – are the only non-elite club to win it.
The competition is likely to be ferocious once again this season and if you check out a BetOnline review and find the best FA Cup odds you will see big teams dominating the betting. Premiership champions Man City are the 4/1 favourites, followed by Champions League finalists Liverpool at 6/1, FA Cup champions Chelsea at 7/1, last year’s beaten finalists Man Utd at 7/1, Tottenham at 8/1 and Arsenal at 9/1, before you get down to Everton at 20/1. The winner is highly likely to come from the big six.
Much depends on European commitments. If a team is thriving in the Champions League, they are likely to rest players in the latter stages of the cup. It is also worth noting that no team has won the league and cup double in the past eight seasons, as the rigours of the title race seems to leave clubs ill-equipped for a tilt at the FA Cup.
Liverpool look set to give Man City a much closer title challenge this season, while those two are also well equipped to conquer Europe, so they may struggle in the cup.
Tottenham look to have a great starting 11 on paper, but they are trophyless in a decade, they keep choking in big games and their recent form has been dodgy, so it is hard to justify a bet on them right now. That leaves Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal as three intriguing challengers. The Gunners have won the cup in three of the last five years, and new manager Unai Emery has a great record in cup competitions. They currently look woeful at the back and their passing has been haphazard, but if they get an easy draw and reach the latter stages of the tournament, they could thrive in the second half of the season once Emery’s methods click in.
There is probably no better cup manager than Jose Mourinho, who is a master at setting his teams up to thwart the opposition. He has won plenty of cups over the last few years, and Man Utd look like a great shout to win this year’s FA Cup. But right now reigning champions Chelsea look like the most compelling option.
They outfoxed Mourinho’s Man Utd in last season’s final, and they have started the current campaign in blistering form under new boss Maurizio Sarri. In Eden Hazard they have arguably the best player in England, and they have plenty more exciting individuals, like N’Golo Kante and Willian. But they probably just lack the quality to keep up with City and Liverpool in the title race, so that may tempt them to go all-out in the cup once more. That would make them extremely dangerous, and it is easy to imagine Hazard tearing through opposition defences in this competition, so Chelsea currently look like a strong option at 7/1 in this market.