It’s the Oldest Cup Competition in the World! But it’s fighting for relevance in the modern game! But third-round weekend! Cardboard FA Cups covered in tinfoil! Local butchers doing horrible-looking sausages in plucky local side’s colours! Games on free-to-air TV that your dad still calls “terrestrial” despite that word being chiefly meaningless in 21st century broadcasting! Isn’t it? Hmm? Marvellous.
But who’s going to win the most important of the unimportant trophies this time around? Here are the 10 leading contenders according to the best prices available at oddschecker.com as of… now.
1) Manchester City
The FA Cup is actually the one domestic competition City haven’t dominated in the Guardiola Era. They’ve won four of the last five Premier League titles and six of the last nine Carabaos, but only one FA Cup in the last decade. But they hammered Chelsea 4-0 in the third round and will have the chance to put another of their direct rivals out with Arsenal up next. A shock Carabao defeat to Southampton has raised further alarm bells about precisely where City are at this season, though…
2) Manchester United
A monumental jump from sixth to second in the running, which will happen when a) Newcastle are surprisingly knocked out, b) Spurs limp past League One opposition, c) Arsenal get drawn against Man City, d) Liverpool continue to be more than a bit pants and e) Man Utd get a 427th home draw in a row in the fourth round. David de Gea quite hilariously made his team work for it but Everton were soon dealt with at Old Trafford and Erik ten Hag might pick up the trophy scent soon. Decent chance of a Liverpool-style cup double as well after United made it to an unorthodox Carabao last four also featuring Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Southampton.
The competition that most clearly marks out the Spursy niche in which English football’s pre-eminent banter club operates. Only Arsenal and Manchester United have won more than Spurs’ total of eight FA Cups, but they haven’t so much as reached a final since the days of Gascoigne and Lineker (and Des Walker extra-time own goals) in 1991. The dominance of the other five Big Six teams has secured them 26 of the 30 FA Cups in the Premier League era, yet Spurs’ contribution to that is nothing more than a string of variably shambolic semi-final exits. Teams to reach the FA Cup final more recently than Spurs include: Leicester, Watford, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull, Wigan, Stoke, Portsmouth, Everton, Cardiff, West Ham, Millwall, Southampton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland. It is an absurd and very, very funny list. Spurs are still third favourites for this season’s trophy, though, and still you sort of think that maybe this year will be different when obviously of course it will not. Preston away in the fourth round has chastening 2-1 exit under the winter evening floodlights written all over it.
The holders ended a 16-year wait to land their eighth FA Cup last season, and a stuttering league campaign can be seen two ways here: does it free them up for another full-blooded crack at the FA Cup, or burden them with focusing on ensuring Champions League football returns to Anfield next season? We don’t know – we rarely do – but a replay against Wolves was essentially the worst outcome either way.
FA Cup specialists in recent years, winning four of the last nine, and currently a far better football team than any of those four cup-winning sides were. The FA Cup’s place in the priority list thus means they’re actually probably less likely to make it five in 10 than if they were still a bit crap in the league. Nobody can match their 14 FA Cup wins in total, and Oxford away was not a bad start to the quest for number 15. Man City away is, admittedly, a less ideal second step.
There they sit, snugly in that little sweet spot where the assumption is that because a club is clear of relegation danger and unlikely to qualify for Europe, they might fancy a crack at winning an actual trophy. It rarely ever actually works out like that but Brighton do seem capable of beating any team on a given day and beating promotion-chasing Boro 5-1 with world champion Alexis MacAllister among the goals was pretty impressive. A fourth-round tie against Wolves or Liverpool next should bring no dread, which says as much about those two teams as it does the Seagulls themselves.
7) West Ham
Since finishing as runners-up to Steven Gerrard in 2006, West Ham have only reached the quarter-final twice – and were subsequently knocked out at that very stage both times. They navigated a short trip to Brentford but Premier League form means there are far bigger fish to fry for David Moyes, who himself is not exactly a cup specialist. Or currently a football management specialist.
The most recent of the four non-Big Six winners of the last 30 years, Leicester stunned Chelsea at Wembley only 18 months ago but an awful lot has changed at the King Power in the interim. And little of it has been good. They edged past Gillingham through FA Cup specialist Kelechi Iheanacho, but that 2021 success was very much the exception rather than the norm; it’s the only time Leicester have made it past the quarter-finals in the last 40 years.
When Marco Silva can afford to make seven changes to his starting line-up, leaving Aleksandar Mitrovic out of the squad entirely, while maintaining a perfect post-World Cup run and unlikely European charge, you know life is good at Fulham right now. At home to Sunderland in round four, there is no reason to believe the Cottagers are done just yet.
Weren’t very good at all against Cardiff and perhaps a trifle fortunate to find themselves in the hat and certainly lucky to be above a Southampton team that we must now consider cup specialists. That said, if Leeds can finish Cardiff off in an unwanted replay, then Accrington Stanley or Boreham Wood in round four gives them a passable route to the last 16 at which point anything (but let’s be real most likely losing 1-0 at Stoke or something) can happen.
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