The turn of the year brings to us yet another edition of the oldest football tournament in the world – The FA Cup. There might be an odd one sided game, but the drama and excitement associated with the FA Cup is second to none. The fans eagerly await the draws hoping to get their team’s most bitter rivals as the next round opponent. The minnows hope to be the giant killers while the teams from lower leagues just want to draw the big clubs from the Premiership in order to boast their television revenue.
Yet, there are certain sections of the crowd and media who are calling to revamp the FA Cup. The big teams do not take the tournament seriously any more, with other tournaments such as the Champions League and the Premier League taking priority. In the year 2000, Manchester United chose to take part in the Club World Championships in America and hence pulled out of the FA Cup despite being the defending champions.
Some believe that the winner of the FA Cup should be eligible to play in the Champions League; such a move would definitely provide an incentive for teams to take the tournament more seriously, but that’s for the administrators to think in years to come. For now though, FA Cup, as we love it, is already upon us with Manchester United hosting Liverpool in the biggest match of the 3rd round.
The rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool has been fierce to say the least, with both teams tied on 18 league titles, but their rivalry in the FA Cup has also been one to cherish. Although Liverpool had won the most recent FA Cup meeting between these two sides, it’s United who lead the head to head with eight wins compared to Liverpool’s three.
United’s most recent win was a famous come-from-behind victory at Old Trafford in 1999, when late goals from Yorke and Solskjaer snatched a win from the jaws of defeat. However, the most memorable moments for the Old Trafford club against Liverpool in the FA Cup came when an incredible Cantona volley in injury time clinched the FA Cup for United in 1996 and thus sealed a 2nd double for the club in the process.
Manchester United, despite being the most successful club in the FA Cup history, has not won it since 2003, when they beat Millwall 3-0 in a one sided final. Sir Alex is keen to end that run this year and would also hope that his team avoids the same fate as last year when United was knocked out in the third round after losing to Leeds United at Old Trafford – a first 3rd round defeat in Ferguson’s reign.
Sir Alex has already admitted his mistake of fielding a wrong team in that match against Leeds and he would certainly not be repeating the same mistake again. He has also been handed a boost as far as injuries are concerned with Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Van Der Sar looking likely to be fit for the game.
It would not be easy for United though, as they face a bruised Liverpool side with their hero Kenny Dalglish back at the helm after Roy Hodgson parted ways with the club. Hodgson had been walking on a tight rope for quite while now with Liverpool already suffering nine defeats in the league so far this season, including home losses at the hands of Wolves and Blackpool. It was believed that this game would be Hodgson’s last chance to redeem himself, however, things have turned out differently.
Dalglish, who was the manager when Liverpool last won the league back in 1990, would have a tough job at hand, having less than two days to prepare the team before they take on Manchester United at Old Trafford in a crucial away tie. However, the new manager syndrome can do wonders for the Liverpool players who certainly have looked lacklustre and unwilling to give their best for the club under Hodgson in recent weeks. There are fewer problems for the new manager on the injury front as all of the first choice players except Jamie Carragher are fit for the game.
What remains to be seen is whether Alex Ferguson’s team will be able to prevail over the Danglish euphoria in this enthralling contest, but if these two teams can deliver a classic once again, nothing would be better for the FA Cup.