Jose Mourinho targets all competitions which means Manchester United will focus on the FA Cup and can continue the trends in the latter stages of the oldest Cup competition in the world. Southampton have the profile of typical finalists from the last 20 years so there could be a repeat of the 1976 Cup Final when the Saints beat United as massive underdogs with a late winning goal. Mick Channon played in that match so I wonder where he is now!
The Third Round of the FA Cup is billed as a clash between the big boys and minnows. Certainly there is a history of shocks in the earlier rounds but usually the cream comes to the top. Since the beginning of the Premier League era for the 1992/93 season 46 of the 48 finalists have come from the top level of English football. In the last 24 seasons the average Premier League finishing position of the Cup winners has been fifth. The losing finalists averaged eighth place in the top league. All this despite the supposed unpredictability of knockout football
In 2004 Millwall from League One were outclassed by Manchester United in the Cup Final. Four years later Cardiff represented the Championship but were beaten by Portsmouth who were in the Premier League at the time. One of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have won the FA Cup 19 times since 1993 and since joining the elite Manchester City have also won the competition. The point is that despite early upsets the Cup has been dominated by the Premier League superpowers.
The Holy Grail for teams in the Premier League is qualifying for the Champions League. It’s very difficult to break into that top four and this season only the Big Six have any chance of playing in the most prestigious club competition in the world. After the ridiculously busy holiday period the Third Round of the FA Cup takes place this weekend and no doubt some postman or accountants will get their 15 minutes of fame. However, come Wembley in May one of the richer clubs will win the Cup.
The winners of the Europa League qualify for the Champions League while the winners of the League Cup and FA Cup qualify for the Europa League. That means there is a route to the Champions League for the 64 teams playing in the third round. In theory in two years Curzon Ashton could be playing in the Champions League. However, no club has completed the journey from playing in the Third Round of the FA Cup to qualifying for the Champions League two seasons later. Manchester United have the wealth and ambition to take that route.
The top six teams in the betting for the FA Cup are the current top six teams in the Premier League. The elite clubs have the resources and squads to rest players early in the competition and then play them at the business end. By next spring Pep Guardiola could be desperate for some silverware and then the Cup becomes important for Manchester City. However, their neighbours and local rivals United are fancied to win the FA Cup for the 13th time which would be a record.
Mourinho respects the integrity of the Cup competitions in England and sees the benefits of winning a trophy. In his time at Chelsea the League Cup was not seen as an afterthought. His side won the competition ahead of winning the Premier League because Mourinho appreciated the value of success. In his first season in charge at United he would take a Cup and United are still potential winners of the Europa League and the two Cup competitions in English football.
Manchester United fans of a certain age will recall the 1976 Final with horror. United were long odds-on to beat Southampton but were beaten by a goal from Bobby Stokes in the 83rd minute. It was a scuffed cross shot and if he had hit it properly Alex Stepney would have saved it and United would have won the Cup. Channon must be the only person to play in an FA Cup Final and train a winner at Royal Ascot! Southampton can emulate his generation by reaching the Cup Final but with a different outcome because United will win this time!
For Tommy Docherty and Lawrie McMenemy read Jose Mourinho and Claude Puel but it is the United manager who will be running around Wembley with the Cup next May. Mick Channon will probably be at Newmarket!