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?
Manchester United (v Reading on Saturday)
“We’re about winning trophies of course,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday, echoing the sentiments of his most recent predecessor. “I don’t know other clubs, I don’t know the way they think, I don’t know what is important for them,” began Jose Mourinho in May 2017.
“We, Manchester United, for us it’s more important to win titles than to finish top four.”
The Portuguese was removed from the post last month because United seemed incapable of either under his stewardship. But with Solskjaer refreshing and reinvigorating the squad, the belief has returned to Old Trafford.
“The FA Cup final is such a fantastic final. I played in the 1999 one at Wembley and, after having watched so many finals as a kid, to be able to make that long walk up from the dressing room to the pitch was fantastic. That’s what we hope for,” said Solskjaer when asked of the FA Cup’s importance this week. He realised it as a player, and has not forgotten it as a manager.
United have a long history littered with trophies, but the FA Cup has actually tended to elude them recently. Louis van Gaal won it in 2016 – much to the confusion of Neil Custis – with Solskjaer a member of the two previous squads to lift the trophy in 1999 and 2004.
The Norwegian is stating quite the case to stay permanently beyond the end of this season. But it remains more likely that he will bid farewell in May as a popular transitional manager. He will be eager to win something as a memento just in case, something to truly remember him and his reign by.
Everton (v Lincoln on Saturday)
It feels as though Marco Silva has been in English football for longer than he actually has. The Portuguese is one of only four non-British or Irish managers to have ever bossed three Premier League teams, yet he has only managed 63 games in the competition.
The two-year anniversary of his arrival on these shores with Hull falls on Saturday, when his Everton side welcome League Two leaders Lincoln City to Goodison Park. Having won just one of their last eight games in all competitions, the Toffees need a boost.
Silva’s first game as a manager in England came in the third round of the FA Cup, when he guided Hull to a 2-0 win over Swansea. But they lost in the fourth round to Championship Fulham. The 41-year-old made amends the following season at Watford with a 3-0 victory over second-tier Bristol City, only to lose again in the fourth round to Southampton.
There is no time like the present when it comes to clearing this particular hurdle. Everton are 11th, with no lingering threat of relegation hanging over them. They could either concentrate on trying to kickstart their Premier League campaign to battle Leicester for seventh place, or use the opportunity to try and win a first trophy since 1995. If Silva wants to regain the absolute faith of the supporters, he should opt for the latter.
West Ham (v Birmingham on Saturday)
Pep Guardiola and Neil Warnock have won two, Claudio Ranieri, Eddie Howe, Chris Hughton, Sean Dyche and Nuno have won one, and Rafael Benitez has won five. Manuel Pellegrini, with his three trophies as a manager in England, is not far behind in terms of silverware won by current Premier League bosses.
Unlike Benitez, Pellegrini has no relegation battle to worry about. West Ham are safe if inconsistent, snug in tenth.
The club have not won a major honour since the 1980 FA Cup, which does a major disservice to their 1999 Intertoto Cup victory. But Pellegrini will be motivated too; this trophy eluded him during his three years at Manchester City. They really could go far.
Leicester (v Newport on Sunday)
In truth, any of the seven clubs in that mid-table rabble from seventh-placed Leicester to Brighton in 13th should view the FA Cup as a priority. Each of the tournament favourites are spinning far more important plates, so solid clubs with no such distractions could easily sneak into the latter stages.
Leicester have an even greater advantage in Claude Puel. Since he was appointed Southampton manager in summer 2016, he has taken charge of 19 English domestic cup games, losing just two in 90 minutes. The Frenchman might be frustratingly inconsistent in the Premier League, but his FA and League Cup record is actually quietly impressive.
Crystal Palace (v Grimsby on Saturday)
Since 1984, the FA Cup final has been contested by none of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Tottenham just once. The 2008 showpiece saw Nwankwo Kanu do a madness against Championship Cardiff, with the established elite nowhere to be seen.
This decade alone, Wigan are the only club to have prevented one of those six sides from lifting the trophy. They paid for such insolence by finishing 18th that season.
Other unfancied sides have reached the final in recent years. Portsmouth were beaten by Chelsea in 2010, Stoke lost to Manchester City a year later, then Hull and Aston Villa both fell to Arsenal in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Crystal Palace arguably came as close as anyone to successfully navigating the tightrope of combining a run in the FA Cup with Premier League safety in 2016. They finished 15th under Alan Pardew, winning just two league games after December 19 as they sacrificed a brilliant start for a memorable journey to Wembley. Jason Puncheon even put them ahead in the 78th minute in the final, but Juan Mata and a Jesse Lingard goal in extra-time would deny them.
Pardew’s premature dance-ulation has placed a curse on Palace ever since. They were knocked out in the fourth round the following season, then fell at the first hurdle last campaign.
It is time to exorcise those demons. Roy Hodgson has promised a “changed side”, but even Connor Wickham ought to be able to impress against League Two Grismby.
Mind you, wait until Wilfried Zaha starts suffering Vietnam-style flashbacks of the Pardew shimmy…