In a season when attempts have been made to restore the glory of the world’s oldest trophy, the FA Cup, it was quite fitting that the first fixtures of the competition in 2014 were marked by what defines its character—upsets and boy, did we have lots of them! Several big teams fell to less fancied teams and some survived merely by the skin of their teeth by earning a replay or just making it through the hard way.
Of course, most of the talk is centred on Sunday’s defeat at Old Trafford of defending English Premier League champions Manchester United at the hands of Swansea City but that is simply because of the context of that result. Otherwise this was not the biggest upset of the third round considering that these are teams playing in the same league and the result was not exactly out of sync with the two clubs’ fortunes.
It is results like West Ham United’s 5-0 demolition by lower league Nottingham Forest that define the character of the FA Cup. When you see a Premier League team travel to a Championship side and get completely outplayed and hammered the full romance of the cup is felt and one can appreciate the pressure on the Hammers’ manager Sam Allardyce as the comprehensively poor results keep coming.
You would say it was not the best weekend to have United to a team’s name because apart from the two aforementioned teams we also had the likes of Newcastle United and Leeds United all being at the wrong end of upsets. Of course, you would not classify the loss of League One’s Carlisle United to Premier League strugglers Sunderland as an upset, but it just adds to the intrigue of being United in the round.
For the Red Devils, they could not have started 2014 on a worse note. Three games played, three games lost, all by an identical 2-1 margin. After a month which, as I had predicted, promised some resurgence this has to be a huge setback, more so considering that two of those reverses were at home and to teams that have normally been guaranteed a loss at Old Trafford. For Swansea City that was their first ever win there.
That FA Cup defeat came days after the loss to Tottenham Hot Spur in the league and has been followed by another slump at the Stadium of Light at the hands of Sunderland in the first leg of the Capital One Cup. David Moyes’s men can still turn the tie around in the second leg, but the fact that they have lost four of their last six home games means that the Black Cats would understandably fancy their own chances of an upset.
Incidentally, Swansea return to Old Trafford in this evening’s late kick-off as the weekend features reverse fixtures for the opening day of season. On that day in August, United ran out easy 4-0 winners at the Liberty Stadium with strikers Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck helping themselves to a brace each. It looks such a long time ago given what has happened since then but there is hope for both teams.
Otherwise, with no real stand-out English Premier League fixture this weekend, the interesting feature is the possibility of the top position on the log table changing hands three times. Chelsea can move to the top with a win at Hull City today, but Manchester City can overtake them if they win away to Newcastle United tomorrow for another 24 hours at least until current leaders Arsenal play Aston Villa.