On paper, each of the weekend’s FA Cup quarter-finals provided the capacity for an upset.
On Sunday, Leicester City hosted Chelsea, Sheffield United entertained Arsenal and an empty St James’ Park was the scene for Newcastle against Manchester City.
The scorelines in the corresponding Premier League fixtures this season? 2-2, a 1-0 home win and another 2-2 draw.
Manchester United dispatched weekend opponents Norwich 3-1 in their Premier League meeting at Carrow Road, but a rested Canaries side took Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side perilously close to a penalty shoot-out even in the absence of supporters.
No fans robbed the cup of its magic
Leicester, Sheffield United and Newcastle all faced opponents who had failed to beat them on their own patch in the league in front of a full house.
With the chance to reach a Wembley semi-final, it is fair to imagine the atmosphere at all three matches would have been electric, with the home crowd sensing the chance of a relative upset.
Of course it is clear why fans are not allowed into stadiums, but the lack of supporters robbed the FA Cup of its magic this weekend.
Matches which should have been on a knife edge and full of passion and vigour ended up with the away side clinching victory, to set up a semi-final lineup formed of four of the traditional ‘big six’.
Bigger squads also help
It is perhaps no co-incidence that it is those traditional big-hitters who have the biggest squads.
That equips them to better deal with the frantic run of fixtures since lockdown ended.
Rotation is not a fool-proof strategy – as United’s wretched performance testified – but their opponents felt the need to rest Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki for a crucial Premier League match against Everton in midweek in order to keep them fresh enough for a crack at Solskjaer’s side.
Perhaps there is little point bemoaning the lack of supporters in stadiums now but the nature of the FA Cup; the excitement it can generate among supporters in its latter stages, as a rare glimpse of silverware moves into view does serve to magnify how much is lost with behind closed doors football.
Four potentially cracking spectacles were lost and four fan-bases – forced to watch on at home – were left to wonder what might have been.
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