LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 6 – Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said he meant no disrespect to the FA Cup in making wholesale changes to his line-up for Sunday’s 2-1 win over non-league Fylde.
The 52-year-old — whose line was echoed by many of his fellow Premier League managers — said he had intended to field a strong side originally.
However, he revised his decision after seeing the impact two high profile away matches in quick succession against defending champions Manchester City and league leaders Liverpool — on December 29 and January 2 respectively — had had on his players.
Wilder’s second string team secured their place in the fourth round in front of just 11,000 spectators in a stadium that has a capacity of over 32,000 further tarnishing the old adage of the ‘magic of the Cup’.
“When I saw the draw a few weeks ago I was going to play a strong side,” said Wilder.
“But just looking at how the boys were, and the intensity of the fixtures coming up, I decided not to.”
Wilder, whose then second tier side were knocked out by non-league Barnet in the third round last year, said times had changed in respect to the FA Cup and the strength of the teams fielded by the top tier sides.
“I have full respect for the Championship, that is intense,” he said.
“But at this level, we go to Manchester City and then Liverpool away from home. That is really intense.
“You never used to see many changes in the third round but the introduction, rise and growth of the Premier League means that’s by far the biggest competition in this country.
“I hope people will understand why we made 11 changes, and I have given the other lads a couple of days off, to go away and to clear their heads.”
– “Good for the confidence” –
Whilst Wilder got away with so many changes his Aston Villa counterpart Dean Smith did not. After making nine to his starting line-up his club lost 2-1 to Championship side Fulham — the fourth successive year they have failed to progress to the fourth round.
However, Smith had an eye on both this week’s League Cup semi-final first leg clash with Leicester and also a battle to avoid making an immediate return to the Championship.
“While the FA Cup means an awful lot to us, it’s not top of our priority list given the injuries we’ve got and the games coming up,” he said.
“It was an opportunity for players to show me they want to be in the first team.”
Fellow strugglers Norwich also made sweeping changes, eight in all — although one less than their second tier opponents Preston North End — but ran out 4-2 victors. That gives manager Daniel Farke food for thought for his team selection ahead of next weekend’s trip to Manchester United.
“A win is always good for the confidence, always good for the feeling,” he said.
“Also for several players who came into the side it was a good performance, so there will be more competition on the training pitch.”