FA Cup Anomaly: Why Do EPL's Best Teams Not Thrive in England's Domestic Cup?

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FA Cup Anomaly: Why Do EPL's Best Teams Not Thrive in England's Domestic Cup?
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Last Saturday, Arsenal defeated EPL foe Hull City in a thrilling FA Cup Final, with Aaron Ramsey giving the Gunners a decisive 3-2 lead in extra time.

While Hull gave a worthy performance and tested Arsenal to their absolute limit, a further trend can be revealed upon a little reflection:

How did they get there in the first place?

Though Hull are a respectable and disciplined side, they simply are not the type of caliber of team that should be reaching a cup final over the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

Some would be quick to point to the depth and competitiveness of the EPL, but the only EPL side that Hull had to defeat en route to their trip to Wembley was Sunderland, who only just escaped from relegation at the last stretch of the season.

 

Examining the Trend

While the trend of top English teams faltering in FA Cup has really surfaced over the past few years, the top teams in Spain and Germany have continued to do well in their respective domestic cups.

The reason for the failures of elite English sides in cup play is hard to map out, but extremely evident based on the numbers.

The following table shows the finalists of the English, Spanish, and German domestic cups the past three years, and sums it all up with the average final table position for each cup's respective finalists:

Information via statto.com (winners in bold)

  2012 2013 2014 Average Finalist Table Position
DFB-Pokal Borrussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich Bayern Munich vs. VfB Stuttgart Bayern Munich vs. Borrusia Dortmund 3.17
Copa Del Rey Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid Real Madrid vs. Barcelona 3.67
Fa Cup Chelsea vs. Liverpool Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City Arsenal vs. Hull City 9

While the FA Cup has had a top-four finalist the last two years, it's also seen Wigan and Hull, 18th and 16th respectively, somehow stumble into the final. It's also worth noting that Chelsea and Liverpool finished sixth and eighth respectively when they met at Wembley, far cries from the third- and second-place finishes they earned this campaign.

Meanwhile, the top teams in La Liga and the Bundesliga have done what they're expected to do, as Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barcelona have all taken home domestic honors in the past three years.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Real Madrid won the Copa Del Rey this season, but disappointed in the La Liga campaign.

 

Explaining the Trend

A possible reason as to why this trend is occurring is that the FA Cup is simply not as big of a deal as is the DFB-Pokal or the Copa Del Rey. While it may be true that the FA Cup seems to have lost some of its prestige and luster, this reason seems a bit oversimplified. 

A better way to approach this issue is recognizing that EPL clubs have to play in an extra cup tournament, the Capital One Cup. Though even less priority is placed in this tournament than the FA Cup, it can certainly lead to a bit more exhaustion and could generally overwork the players, as they are playing more games. 

However, the same could be said for the Champions League, which Bayern, BVB, Barca, and Madrid have all participated in recently. While the Capital One Cup is seen as somewhat of a burden, it is not prioritized very much, with young prodigies or squad players often getting a chance to feature, and top teams often exiting early.

The Champions League, however, is Europe's premier tournament, and calls for its participating teams to field their strongest lineups and have them play at least another six games. While the elite sides of Spain and Germany have been able to balance their domestic cups and the UCL, for English teams it's often been one or the other. The last two "big-club" FA Cup finalists, Arsenal and Manchester City have been disappointing in the Champions League in the same season.

In examining the ability of Spanish and German sides to balance these tournaments, the simple answer might simply be that they are better, deeper teams, than those of the EPL. But with Manchester Untied and Chelsea winning the UCL in recent seasons, it's been proven that, at worst, EPL squads are only slightly behind. 

With two- and five-week Christmas breaks respectively in league play, though, the lack of fatigue that Spanish and German sides have in the latter stages of the season have to be vital.

Just as Real, Barca, BVB and Bayern come back feeling rejuvenated for the second half of their seasons, English clubs, contrarily, enter the new year beaten and battered after playing five or six games in the span of three weeks.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press
The dense December/January EPL schedule is often detrimental to player health and fitness

In the end though, it comes back to priorities, as the EPL has greatly taken precedence over FA Cup performance in recent years. Roberto Di Matteo was fired after winning the FA Cup and Champions League, and two trips to Wembley (one win, one loss) also weren't enough to save Roberto Mancini's job.

 

Summing it Up

How important is the FA Cup?

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In conclusion, a plethora of factors have caused the trend of top-tier English clubs doing poorly in the FA Cup. 

Until the EPL schedule is kinder to players' bodies, only squad players are featured in the Capital One Cup, and coaches' cup achievements at big clubs are rewarded, the prospect of an FA Cup win will only be viewed as a bonus to a steady, convincing league performance.

And that's disappointing.

Information via ESPNFC was used in this article.

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