In recent years, the question “what is the point of the FA Cup?” has been asked by fans up and down the country, as the majority of teams now appear to see it as an unwanted distraction from promotion, relegation and even abject mediocrity. But, I would venture the point of the cup – the oldest club competition in the world don’t forget, is the perfect tonic/antidote for a club in the position Everton find themselves today.
The Toffee’s record in the FA Cup is impressive. It’s a competition we consistently do well in, more than likely because we find ourselves in this self-same position far too regularly. Only three teams have reached the final more often in the competition’s history and in the last 70 years Everton are the 5th most successful team, with only Man U averaging a higher round finish. In the last 5 years I would suggest we are significantly higher, with two semis and a quarter final. Looked at another way however – a more critical one, that is simply par for the course for this team. We do OK, get far enough to get our hopes up, stir up memories of Wembley Way, before failing to get over the line once more. Looking at the odds on Betway, the “experts” see much the same happening again. It is now more than two decades since we last lifted the trophy, and in that time Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Millwall, West Ham Cardiff, Portsmouth, Stoke, Wigan, Hull, Villa and Palace have all reached the final. No disrespect, but we are a better team than those, and we need to start acting like it. For a club in our position, who actually targets the cup, we could and should be doing better.
Koeman will know that. He knows enough about the game, and the English game, to know that the FA Cup is the ideal way to lift and transform a mediocre, frustrating season to one that at least resembles something like progress. Of course, there has to be other things put in place, or it will simply be a case of putting lipstick on a bulldog, one that seldom barks nowadays, never mind bites.
On paper we weren’t given the easiest of ties. Ideally you want to ghost through the early rounds against lower league opposition (despite the clichéd banana skins they occasionally throw up) before locking horns with the big boys later on. Scratch below the surface though and it is not too bad a draw at all. The Foxes’ away record this season has been abysmal, and with their heroics in the Champions League, coupled with their poor form in the league which will see fans nervously looking down the table, the cup will hardly be a priority for Ranieri. Jamie Vardy, who had his appeal for his red card against Stoke rejected by the FA, will be back for the cup tie, and will be likely to play after his enforced rest over the Christmas period.
January will be crucial for more than just the tie with Leicester and hopefully a 4th round tie on the 28th. The transfer window will be important, particularly in whether Lukaku stays, and Koeman has repeatedly pointed to the window to when things will be straightened out and improved. After relatively good and smart business in the summer, we should have reason for some optimism in who comes through the door. The most important thing however is that whoever does come in, the gaffer is able to get them playing in a manner that befits both their potential and that of this great club of ours. He needs to find a style, a pattern of play – an identity – and then build a team around it. Regardless of whether the jury is out for Koeman, or if it has already filed back in glum faced and shaking its collective head, the next 5 months will once again be crucial for the future development of this club. And success in the FA Cup will be more than simply the icing on the cake.