10 January 2019
It’s a tiresome annual debate that once again muscled its way into focus this week.
The third round of the FA Cup inevitably brought about a huge raft of clichéd content and the very same argument that brings about so much faux outrage and manufactured fury every year without fail.
Premier League clubs are accused of devaluing the competition should they even dare to name a smattering of changes after a gruelling fixture list that will have required most of them to play at least half a dozen times in December.
Take Bournemouth, for example. Eddie Howe’s team played seven times in the month of December and followed that up with another game on January 2, just for good measure, to make it eight matches before their 3-1 defeat to Brighton in the Cup.
Both teams made a combined 17 changes for the game, while the rest of their top-flight competitors followed suit for their own respective games.
Jurgen Klopp was the latest to do so with his Liverpool team. The German made nine to his Reds side for the trip to Wolves and was forced into a 10th minutes into the game after Dejan Lovren pulled up with a hamstring injury.
The 16-year-old defender Ki-Jana Hoever replaced Lovren for his first taste of first-team action and the Dutchman’s appearance made it the third teenager in the Reds side after Klopp had early named Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho in his lineup – the first players to play for the club born in the 2000s.
Predictably, Liverpool lost to a virtually full strength Wolves team.
Klopp was derided in some sections for, of course, ‘failing to take the competition seriously’ while Nuno Espirito Santo was lauded for maintaining his respect for the world’s oldest cup competition.
In reality, such takes do not add up. Wolves, for their part, are riding high in their first season back in the Premier League and are comfortably safe from the threat of relegation unless their season turns on its head.
Why wouldn’t the Portuguese manager of Wolves name a strong side in an attempt to have a crack at Cup glory?
Teams don’t make huge changes and tweaks to their side just because the competition isn’t the Premier League. Such swaps are often made out of necessity for teams who are either battling relegation or trying to win league.
Wolves fall into neither category so are safe to try their damndest to win the FA Cup.
And fair play to them for it.
Liverpool, however, are making their strongest charge in nearly three decades towards a 19th league title.
Klopp’s Reds are four points clear at the top of the Premier League and are well on course to give their best-ever challenge for the Holy Grail.
The desire to see No.19 return to Anfield is tangible around Merseyside, so few will lose sleep at the sight of a makeshift side limping out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
That hasn’t stopped the futile – and of course, entirely predictable – moaning from certain analysts.
“I was brought up watching Liverpool trying to win every trophy. Why should that change?” said Alan Shearer on Twitter, blissfully ignoring that the Reds’ best chance since 1990 of winning the league title is here and now.
It’s been 29 years since Liverpool won the top crown in English football, if the cost of a Premier League title-winning omelette is a few broken eggs in the FA Cup, Liverpool will be able to live with it.
The last bastion of sensible and reasoned football debate, Vinnie Jones, chimed in with his thoughts on the subject on talkSPORT this week, too.
Unsurprisingly, he was of the opinion that Premier League managers shouldn’t be resting their top stars.
“If I was manager I would put out my best side, see how things go, and then put a couple of youngsters out,” he said.
“Some of these teams are not good enough to put a second-string team out.”
Matthew Etherington, the former Stoke winger, derided the relegation-haunted of the Premier League for having the temerity of prizing their top-flight safety over a Cup run.
“You look at the results for Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham,” he said.
“And is there a common theme and is it worth a discussion as to the mindset of these teams in lower reaches?
“The mindset of these clubs at the lower end of the table is that the FA Cup is an inconvenience. It’s a real shame that’s the case.”
The self-appointed moral guardians of the FA Cup can go back in their box for the next few weeks at least.
Well, until the next Premier League team bites the dust after a handful of changes.
Managers are perfectly within their rights to choose whatever team they feel can win in any given football match.
The tedious complaints need to cease.
But we’re not holding our breath.