FA Cup 2014: the intelligent punter's guide
Why being number two in the Premier League spells good luck for Manchester City in the FA Cup
IT'S the oldest and most famous football knock-out competition in the world but one that until quite recently looked to have lost a lot of its magic.
The FA Cup was once renowned for its upsets: in the 1970s we saw surprise winners from the Second Division (Sunderland and Southampton), and in the 1980s there were wins for First Division underdogs Coventry and Wimbledon.
But in the Premier League era, as the financial gap between teams widened, the competition became increasingly dominated by a small number of big clubs. From 1996 until 2007 only four different teams won the competition: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Since 2007 however, the position has changed again. While Chelsea have won the contest three times in the past five seasons, winners in the last six years have also included Portsmouth and, famously, Wigan Athletic, who last year became the first team to win the Cup and be relegated in the same season. Also since 2007, we have seen the emergence of Manchester City, winners in 2011 and beaten finalists last year.
Compiling a shortlist of potential FA Cup winners is therefore not as straightforward as it was ten years ago, but bearing in mind five key statistics can help us get the percentages in our favour ahead of this year's third round, when Premier League teams make their first appearance.
First, since the start of the Premiership/Premier League no team from outside the top flight has won the FA Cup and just two - Millwall (2004) and Cardiff City (2008) - have reached the final. Compare that to the period 1973-82 when three second-tier teams prevailed, and two more reached the final. For a win-only bet, there's little appeal in backing a Championship team - but don’t be put off backing one at big odds each way.
Second, since 1993/94 on all but two occasions the cup has been won by a team in the top nine in the Premier League at the time of the third round.
Third, six of the last ten winners - and five of the last seven winners - were drawn at home in the third round. Of those winners that were drawn away, only one was drawn against another Premier League team - which doesn't augur well for the chances of Tottenham, Fulham, Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Swansea in this year's competition.
Fourth, the most popular league position for an FA Cup winner is second place in the Premier League on third round day: in the last 20 seasons the cup has been won five times by the team in the position currently occupied by Manchester City.
Fifth, teams near the bottom of the Premiership surprisingly have a better recent record in the competition than teams placed between 10th and 17th.
So for our betting portfolio it seems wisest to focus on teams in the top nine in the Premier League who are drawn at home in round three - or, if they're away, don’t have to face Premier League opponents.
We should also include a longer-priced team that's towards the bottom of the Premier League, and perhaps one small each-way bet on a very long-priced Championship side.
It won't guarantee that we get the FA Cup winner, but it'll make it more likely that we do. With the shortest price team in the market available at 5-1, it makes sense to make each-way bets, so you‘ll get a pay-out even if your selection loses in the final on Saturday 17 May.
Now let's take a closer look at the likelier contenders.
MANCHESTER CITY: Best odds: 5-1.
The 2011 winners are in the ‘lucky’ second place position in the Premier League and although they've got an away draw in the third round, they should have easily enough attacking power to sink Championship side Blackburn Rovers. Given their imperious home record, and the fact that they’ve reached two of the last three finals, it’s not hard to see why the bookies have installed them as favourites.
CHELSEA: Best odds 6-1.
They are the FA Cup kings of the last decade with four wins in seven years, including a win under Mourinho in 2007. They could have had an easier third round tie than being away to in-form Derby County, but they should have too much quality for the Rams, and the current odds look a fair reflection of their chances.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Best odds 8-1.
Given their domination of domestic football, it’s surprising that the Red Devils haven’t won the FA Cup since 2004. That’s the longest gap the club has gone without an FA Cup success since the 1970s, and so you could say that they are overdue another victory. David Moyes has a fair record in this competition in recent years with Everton, without winning it, but United’s shaky home form - with four defeats already at Old Trafford this season - reduces confidence.
LIVERPOOL: Best odds: 9-1.
Winners in 1992, 2001 and 2006 and so you could say they are due another success. They’ve incredibly drawn Oldham, who knocked them out last year, for the third year in a row, but this time they meet the League One side at home. Manager Brendan Rodgers doesn’t have a great record in cup competitions but so long as Suarez stays fit, they’ve got to be on the shortlist.
ARSENAL: Best odds: 10-1.
Winners three times in the period 2002-5 but they haven’t appeared in the final since 2005. Defensively, they look stronger than they’ve been for many years and teams leading the Premier League at the time of the third round have won the competition four times in the last ten years, (only the team in second place has a better record), so the Gunners could be over-priced.
EVERTON: Best odds: 16-1.
If manager Roberto Martinez can win the Cup with Wigan, then he’s surely capable of doing the same with the better squad he has at Everton. The Toffees’ third round tie with QPR is not a ‘gimme’ but they do have home advantage and you’ve got to respect the chances of a team that has only lost two league games all season.
TOTTENHAM: Best odds: 16-1.
Spurs had a great record in the competition between 1981-91 when they won it three times and were beaten finalists once, but they haven't reached the final since. They're in good form under new manager Tim Sherwood but have the considerable obstacle of an away tie to Arsenal to negotiate in the third round.
SOUTHAMPTON: Best odds: 28-1.
The 1976 winners and 2003 beaten finalists had a great start to the season but the wheels have come off their campaign over the past month. They’re in the top nine in the Premier League though and have a home draw in the third round so can’t be discounted.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Best odds: 40-1.
The Magpies have a poor recent record in the competition and fans will be delighted they’re not drawn against Brighton, who have knocked them out in the past two seasons. On their day though they can beat anyone - as they’ve shown in the Premier League this season with wins over Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United, and a small each-way bet at current odds looks tempting.
SUNDERLAND: Best odds: 50-1.
Winners in 1973 and beaten finalists in 1992, they also got to the semi-finals in 2004. Seem to be improving after a dreadful start to the season and showed they can do well in cup competitions by reaching the semi-finals of the League Cup. The Black Cats have got a home draw against League One opposition in the third round and they could be the Premier League strugglers who surprise.
WEST BROM: Best odds: 50-1.
Currently 14th in the Premier League but they‘ve only lost three times away all season and were in good form over Christmas. A team that could just as easily lose at home to lower league opposition as claim a big scalp away: only a highly dubious penalty decision cost them victory at Chelsea in November.
WIGAN ATHLETIC: Best odds: 150-1.
Created a huge upset when winning the competition last year and to win it again, or even get to the final again, would be truly sensational. That said they’re coming into the competition in great form, and have a home draw against League One opponents in the third round. The negative, however, is that returning to the Premier League is their main priority and having put the Cup first last season, they’re unlikely to do the same again.
BRIGHTON: Best odds: 150-1.
Reading at home in the third round won’t be easy, but the Championship side have done well in the contest in recent years and might give supporters a run for their money.
BOURNEMOUTH: Best odds: 250-1.
Should make it through the third round (they’ve got a home draw against League Two opponents) and took last year’s eventual winners Wigan to a replay in the third round. They won’t win it, but have hit some good form over Christmas and could give each-way backers a bit of fun along the way.