Friday, January 8, 2021

Domestic Cups: Premiere League Pauses for English FA Cup; Carabou Cup Final Set

FA Cup

The Premier League schedule of league matches pauses this weekend as teams participate in The Football Association Challenge Cup, better known simply as the FA Cup.  The expansive FA Cup competition includes the Premier League, the three levels of the English Football League (Championship, League 1, and League 2) and “non-league” teams down to Level 10 of English football.  A series of byes sees the two largest leagues enter at the “Third Round Proper” of the competition as the twenty Premier League teams and twenty-four Championship teams join the twenty winners from the Cup’s second round in thirty-two matches scheduled across this coming weekend.  

Action begins Friday with two matches pairing Premier League competitors.  Aston Villa will face Liverpool for the first time since Villa’s 7-2 October shellacking of the Reds.  While Liverpool will have some squad rotation, Villa’s line-up for the match will be unrecognizable.  Due to a COVID outbreak within the first team, Aston Villa will be utilizing U-23 and academy players managed by U-23 boss Mark Delaney for its match. Crystal Palace faces Wolves in a second Friday encounter.  Saturday matches include a matchup of Premier League teams Arsenal and Newcastle.  

Other Premier League sides are matched this weekend against competition from the lower levels in English football.  The open nature of the competition, which includes clubs not fully professional, creates “David and Goliath” matches which are part of the fabric of the oldest national football competition in the world.  Perhaps the most talked about “David and Goliath” fixture this weekend features Tottenham Hotspur against Marine on Sunday.  While fans are banned due to COVID, the match will be played at the Merseyside home of Spurs’ lower division opponent which normally seats only 389 spectators with a full capacity of 3,185 fans.  A charitable foundation of football pundit and former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher is sponsoring the Marine squad’s warmup gear for Saturday’s match.  The FA Cup concludes in May with the eventual winner earning qualification to next season’s Europa League.  Arsenal defeated Chelsea in last year’s FA Cup final.


Carabou Cup

The matchup for the Carabou Cup Final is set following semifinal matches played this week. Spurs defeated Championship side Brentford 2-0 on goals by Son Heung-min and Moussa Sissoko.  Spurs will face Manchester City in the Final following the Citizens’ 2-0 defeat of crosstown rival Manchester United which featured goals from defensive midfielder Fernandinho and center back John Stones.  City will be seeking a fourth consecutive Carabou Cup title in the Final against Spurs where they will be facing the last manager other than Pep Guardiola to lift the Cup.  Current Spurs Manager Jose Mourinho won the competition with Manchester United in 2017.  Spurs won the Cup in 2008, the last trophy garnered by the north London club.  The Final, originally scheduled to take place in February, has been delayed until April in the hope that the COVID situation will be improved enough for fans, in some number, to attend the match.  This year’s winner will qualify for the inaugural Europa Conference League, a new third tier European competition added to the existing Champions League and Europa League competitions.  The Carabou Cup, also known as the EFL Cup or League Cup, is a sponsored competition amongst teams from the Premier League and the three divisions of the English Football League (Championship, League 1, and League 2).

Premier League and COVID

As the UK goes into another period of lockdown amid rising case numbers, all of English football is seeing increased COVID impact.  Aston Villa’s entire first team is sidelined for its FA Cup match.  Southampton will not be playing this weekend as its FA Cup match was canceled due to a COVID breakout suffered by its opponent, Shrewsbury. Four Premier League matches have been postponed so far this season due to COVID.  A season high forty positive cases was reported this week from the league’s latest round of testing.  The Premier League remains committed to carrying on, but further cancellations will be problematic to reschedule amid an already congested fixture list. Burnley manager Sean Dyche has gone so far as to lobby for fast tracked vaccination of Premier League players.

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