The romantic answer is ‘all of them’, but we all know that isn’t the case. Which clubs really should make winning the FA Cup a priority?
“I don’t know other clubs, I don’t know the way they think, I don’t know what is important for them,” said Jose Mourinho in May, laying the sarcasm on thick. “We, Manchester United, for us it’s more important to win titles than to finish top four.”
A week later, Mourinho won his second major trophy at Old Trafford and salvaged United’s season. Given the lack of title challenge – despite Mourinho saying that had to be the aim for 2017/18 – and Carabao Cup exit to Bristol City, the FA Cup might be required for this season to be given a layer of gloss.
With a top-four place surely safe and yet a title challenge impossible, Mourinho side have the FA Cup and Champions League left to fight for. Going deep into both – or winning one – is the only way to avoid this being judged as a season of backward steps. After all, even Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup.
All rise for Claude Puel. Leicester City were in the relegation zone when the much-maligned Frenchman took over, but a league table created since that date sees Leicester in sixth. Rather than relegation, they are eyeing seventh place and Europa League qualification.
Yet Puel’s standout achievement at Southampton was taking them to a first domestic final since 2003. With Southampton safe from trouble in the Premier League, Puel picked a strong side in each round and took his side past four different Premier League clubs (Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Arsenal and Liverpool).
There is no reason why he cannot repeat the trick in the East Midlands. Leicester only lost to Manchester City on penalties in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, and face Fleetwood Town live on television on Saturday lunchtime. With supporters now looking up the league rather than down, what price another decent run? You can get them at 28/1.
Sam Allardyce is quickly losing friends and alienating some Everton supporters. Those who were uneasy about his arrival have hardly had their fears allayed. Results have improved, but plenty of managers could have achieved that. The lack of any shot on target at Goodison since December 18 is slightly farcical.
Winning a trophy would certainly ingratiate Allardyce to the doubters. This is a fine old club, but one that has not won silverware since 1995 under Joe Royle. Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then.
Yet the more immediate concern is that Everton must show some ambition at Anfield on Friday evening. If Allardyce instructs his side to be ultra-defensive again and fails to benefit from the same fortune as in the league game a month ago, there will be questions asked about just what kind of club Everton wish to become.
“I will start by stating what the ambition is. The ambition is to put this club in a position where we are winning the Premier League” – Ivan Gazidis.
“Our ambition is to win the Premier League and other major trophies in Europe. It is what the fans, players, staff, manager and board expect and we will not rest until that is achieved. Arsene is the best person to help us make that happen” – Stan Kroenke.
“This is a strong group of players and with some additions we can be even more successful. We are committed to mounting a sustained league challenge and that will be our focus this summer and next season” – Arsene Wenger.
The three pillars of Arsenal, all speaking on the same day in May 2017 when Wenger’s new contract was announced. You are a fool if you believed them.
Twenty-three points behind first place and five off the top four in early January, Europa League victory might be the most realistic hope of Champions League football next season. Win the FA Cup too, and Wenger will have eclipsed Jose Mourinho’s 2016/17 while finishing in the same league position. That is all that will save this season.
It might sound ludicrous given Burnley’s extraordinary 2017, but Sean Dyche has a problem. Having failed to be appointed the new manager of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester City, West Ham and Everton this season (I’m not saying he wanted all of those jobs), it does appear that Dyche is stuck as a victim of his own success. If Stoke cannot tempt him with a hefty pay packet when Mark Hughes leaves, where else is there for Dyche to go? He is in a group of one, neither firefighter nor sexy foreign project manager.
The obvious answer to that might be to stay exactly where he is, but that is not usually how management works. Individuals typically look to maximise their success by accepting promotions when their reputation is at its zenith. Dyche will know only too well that goodwill can quickly dissipate if Burnley begin to stumble.
One way to enhance his reputation further would be to bring FA Cup success to Burnley. That does not necessarily mean winning the competition, but with survival from relegation effectively secured already, Burnley have no reason not to make the FA Cup their late-season priority.
Unfortunately, Burnley landed the worst possible draw and must take on the all-singing, all-dancing champions elect. Upset is not impossible – Wolves held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw – but it is unlikely. Dyche must select a first-choice team and hope Pep Guardiola’s side have eyes elsewhere.