When Southampton takes on Championship-strugglers Yeovil Town Saturday in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, it would be very tempting for the Saints to send out a second-choice side. Especially considering the South Coast club hosts Arsenal just three days later on Tuesday.
But if there was any time to reverse conventional thinking and prior practice, the time is now. Southampton should field a strong side on Saturday and push to make a cup run that would end their season at Wembley.
The Saints haven't exactly put much emphasis on cup competitions this season. In the Capital One Cup, Southampton would play mostly a second-team squad. Only Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis were among the first-team regulars to play in the cup loss against Sunderland.
In Southampton's third-round FA Cup match against a tricky Burnley side, more of the Saints regulars took part. But five members of the squad, Kelvin Davis, Maya Yoshida, Gaston Ramirez, Jack Cork and Jos Hooiveld, aren't among the usual first-team squad.
Even further proof that Mauricio Pochettino doesn't place a high priority on cup competitions is that he delegates some of his duties. Instead, he lets assistant manager Jesus Perez handle the media duties and shares touchline responsibilities during the match.
With Southampton's current Premier League standing, it doesn't make much sense to make that competition the priority. The gaps between the ninth-place Saints and the teams on either side of them in the table are large enough that moving up or down the standings is unlikely.
If Southampton averaged two points from each of their remaining 16 games, the Saints would end the season on 63 points. Looking at eighth-place Newcastle, if they continue their current point rate, they would finish the season with 62 points. Seventh-place Manchester United would finish with 64 points. The top six are simply untouchable unless their form significantly decreases.
Where should Southampton put their priorities for the remainder of the season?
Conversely, Southampton can't really fall that far either. If the Saints only manage one point per game from their 16 remaining games, the Saints would finish with 47, well outside the relegation zone. Aston Villa, who currently sit in 10th, would have to earn 1.44 points per game just to get to 47 points. Hull City and Norwich City would have to average 1.5 points per match. So a fall to a spot lower than 12th is a long shot.
Winning the FA Cup provides a spot in the Europa League. Although Pochettino may not be too fond of the competition, it would provide another signal that the club should not be looked upon as a small club any longer. European play would attract a higher caliber of players to the club that could push Southampton into a challenge for the top four.
An extended cup run would also be welcomed for the fans that have had to put up with a bunch of silliness the past couple of weeks. From the row over Mark Clattenburg's remarks to Adam Lallana, to Nicola Cortese's resignation and the rumors that started to yesterday's developments that Dani Osvaldo has been suspended two weeks for attacking Jose Fonte in training, it's been a distracting month.
The fans just want to see good football on the pitch. Fielding a full-strength side on Saturday to maximize the chances of extending the Saints' FA Cup run should be the No. 1 priority for Pochettino and Southampton.