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Is the FA Cup losing its allure?

Falling attendances and rested stars diminish storied competition

The FA Cup third round used to have pride of place among the showpiece dates of the English football calendar, but a weekend of empty stands and much-changed teams showed there appears to be little romance left for the cup.

After a gruelling festive fixture schedule saw four rounds of English Premier League games crammed into 13 days either side of Christmas and New Year, managers from the 20 top-flight teams made a combined 136 changes.

Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion and Aston Villa were the only EPL sides to pay the penalty for resting first-team regulars against Championship opposition, with even many of the sides further down the pyramid taking the chance to rotate.

The 24 Championship sides made 171 alterations to their starting line-ups.


Many fans also took the opportunity for a weekend break from football, with attendances for EPL and Championship clubs down over 150,000 on their previous home matches.

Cardiff City narrowly avoided their lowest attendance since moving to the 33,000-capacity Cardiff City Stadium over a decade ago.

"I think the amount of fixtures in the schedule over this period makes it very difficult for supporters to support every single game," said Cardiff manager Neil Harris.

After a gruelling December in which his side played nine games across four different competitions, Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp made nine changes, but his side still beat local rivals Everton 1-0 in the Merseyside Derby.

"Two players started the last game, one of them got injured," said Klopp after James Milner limped off inside 10 minutes.

"That's why a lot of managers make a lot of changes. It's nothing to do with the cup, it's the timing."

However, others believe more radical changes are needed to the format to halt the FA Cup's decline.

Replays have already been abolished from the fifth round, but Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo said he would have preferred a penalty shoot-out than another go at Manchester United after a 0-0 draw at Molineux.

The EPL taking priority and people's attention has been a recurring theme of the FA Cup's dwindling attraction.

There are fears that changes, such as removing replays completely, may sound the death knell for lower league clubs, who rely on the financial bounty of a big-name draw .- AFP