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Which foremost Premier League coach should secure FA Cup the most?

The FA Cup is back this upcoming weekend (watch matches live on ESPN+), and this prompts an inquiry for the Premier League teams now participating: who should secure the competition the most?

All 20 top-tier teams enter the competition at the third-round phase, and it happens at a time when the Premier League is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years. The top five clubs are separated by just six points, and this nearness adds new emphasis to the discussion about the significance of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition to its contenders. Some coaches are aiming for larger rewards, others are aiming for a respite for key players. However, some might require an FA Cup victory to protect their positions in the job.

Here, ESPN examines eight of the top overseers and the dilemma facing them this weekend.

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Pep Guardiola, Manchester City

Guardiola’s primary concern this season is safeguarding against a decline in hunger or standards following Manchester City’s remarkable treble triumph. The first competition they can now fail to defend is the FA Cup, although the draw has been kind in pitting them against Championship strugglers Huddersfield Town. Rotation is unavoidable given the opponents and recent exertions at the FIFA Club World Cup, so Guardiola can probably postpone worrying about the importance of the FA Cup until later in the month. Only an early exit would reinforce that some form of complacency is creeping in.

In reality, Guardiola would no doubt willingly give up the FA Cup if it meant winning the Premier League and UEFA Champions League again. But their authority last season makes them surely the favorites to win all three once more. Additionally, the competition comes at a perfect time for star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who seems certain to make his long-awaited return from injury after four months out with a hamstring injury.

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool

Klopp understands better than most what competing on four fronts can do to a team. Liverpool played 63 games in the 2021-22 season as they pursued an unprecedented quadruple, resulting in the domestic double of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup while falling short in the Premier League and losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid. Fatigue was an inevitable factor in the following season, with Liverpool finishing fifth. It is this experience that may influence Klopp’s approach to the competition, given they find themselves (somewhat unexpectedly) at the top of the Premier League after 20 matches.

Liverpool’s high-press, high-energy football is back, placing significant physical demands on his players. Rotation is almost unavoidable, even in one of the toughest fixtures the third-round draw could have presented: an away game against Arsenal. The challenge of Sunday’s game arguably allows Klopp to exit the competition without too much regret, not that he will be considering that course of action, of course. However, the timing is tricky as this is also Liverpool’s first match without Mohamed Salah, who left to represent Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Klopp’s ultimate goal for “Liverpool 2.0” is to win the league or conquer Europe.

The first half of the season suggests they are ahead of schedule, so the FA Cup could equally be seen as a stepping stone on that journey or an unwanted hurdle.

Unai Emery, Aston Villa

Aston Villa have not secured the FA Cup since 1957, but under Emery nowadays, nearly anything feels plausible. Only Manchester City (93) amassed more Premier League points in 2023 than Villa’s 85, and they find themselves in second position when FA Cup third-round weekend arrives. Consequently, Emery has a decision to make: Does he rotate to protect a squad widely considered as unprepared to challenge for the title and maintain a UEFA Europa League push? Or does he target the most achievable trophy Villa have left?

The opponents on Saturday are in a similar position in one sense, given that Middlesbrough are focused on trying to secure promotion from the Championship, not to mention a Carabao Cup semifinal first-leg tie against Chelsea to come next Tuesday. There is an expectation that Villa will level off at some point in the second half of the campaign—when many anticipate City to kick into gear—but perhaps Emery can bring some of his cup magic to Villa Park.

He has secured two Coupe de France titles, two Coupe de la Ligue titles, and two Trophée des Champions with Paris Saint-Germain and, of course, three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla. Regardless, he will want to avoid a repeat of last season’s early exit to then-League Two side Stevenage—such outcomes can harm momentum.



Are Aston Villa overachieving in the Premier League this season?

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Eddie Howe, Newcastle United

A visit to fierce local rivals Sunderland is likely the very last thing Howe requires at this time. Newcastle have demonstrated signs of fatigue as an injury-ravaged squad has struggled to cope with the demands of combining a Premier League top-four push with six matches in the Champions League group stage.

If their Carabao Cup quarterfinal penalty shootout loss at Chelsea last month is included, they have suffered seven defeats in their last eight games in all competitions, putting Howe under the most intense scrutiny he has faced since taking charge in November 2021. This will intensify should they lose to Sunderland, who are sixth in the Championship and eager to bring their Saudi-backedneighbors down to Earth.

Despite Newcastle’s progress, they are still awaiting a trophy. Despite claiming the Championship in 2017, the last major honor was secured with a triumph in the 1955 FA Cup final. There has been an increase in expectations – a commendation for the work Howe has carried out – yet, exiting the FA Cup would leave them encountering yet another season without a trophy and a progressively uphill struggle to break into the top four. Given that they have a match against City next weekend, Howe surely has to give rest to one or two players before a two-week break.

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal

Arsenal’s success in the 2020 FA Cup final against Chelsea laid the groundwork for Arteta to gain the authority to revamp the Gunners into the challengers for the Premier League title that they are today. As a result, the Spaniard is now aiming for bigger rewards than this competition, given that they are within striking distance of leaders Liverpool and have an inviting Champions League round-of-16 tie against Porto next month.

Arteta has transformed Arsenal during his four years in charge to the extent that winning silverware is rapidly becoming an assumption rather than an unrealistic fantasy. Nonetheless, it could be argued that there is still a gap between the level needed to fulfill their aspiration of lifting the Champions League or Premier League and the actual capability of this team at present, one which could be filled by an FA Cup victory as they continue to evolve. There are uncertainties about whether they have the depth in the squad to pursue all three trophies, and an early test will come in Sunday’s third-round tie against Liverpool, when Arteta may make changes to one or two players after a challenging festive period.



Why Man City will be keeping an eye on Arsenal-Liverpool FA Cup tie

Kay Murray and Janusz Michallik speculate whether Manchester City will closely watch Arsenal vs. Liverpool in the FA Cup to determine their toughest opponent.

Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham Hotspur

Possibly the singular misstep of Postecoglou’s reign at Tottenham thus far was his readiness to risk an upset in the Carabao Cup by making nine alterations for their second-round match at Fulham. Spurs suffered a loss at Craven Cottage on penalties, prompting a backlash among supporters who were frustrated that arguably their best opportunity of securing a first trophy since 2008 had been jeopardized by fielding such a significantly modified team. Nevertheless, this now stands as a negligible issue given that Postecoglou has guided Tottenham to within a point of the Premier League’s top four, five behind leaders Liverpool, with an attacking style of play that has captivated everyone.

However, Spurs still have an urge to satisfy. It would be a remarkable accomplishment if a season that commenced with the departure of their influential center-forward and one of the most outstanding strikers England has ever produced – Harry Kane – culminated with a first trophy in 16 years at Wembley?

Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea

There is an understanding at Stamford Bridge that this was always going to be a season of transition, given the unparalleled level of investment (over £1 billion in three transfer windows) and the turnover of players since the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital takeover of May 2022. Consequently, Pochettino will not be evaluated solely on Premier League performance, but even considering the allowance arising from all the change, the Blues never anticipated being in 10th place after 20 matches.

They are 12 points adrift of the top four, and while securing a place in the Champions League would be their primary aim, winning the FA Cup would provide a similar endorsement to what Arteta enjoyed four years earlier. This is especially relevant for a manager whose lack of silverware was the only thing absent from 5½ years of progress at Tottenham. Although Pochettino secured the Coupe de France and a Ligue 1 title with PSG, there are still doubts over his ability to secure trophies by some, so winning the FA Cup would be a significant achievement – one that would also symbolize the kind of collective experience that could unite his expensively assembled squad.

Pochettino’s position is not under immediate threat, but a cup run would also help counterbalance any lingering disappointment in the league. A home tie against Preston North End – 14th in the Championship – is an attractive place to commence.

Erik ten Hag, Manchester United

Manchester United’s systemic issues cannot be resolved by the FA Cup. However, if Ten Hag is striving to prove that he should continue as the manager when Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos commence their revamp of the club’s football operations, then United’s first FA Cup victory since 2016 would bolster his case. This season has demonstrated that United in their current state are once again incapable of delivering the consistency required to sustain a title challenge, and recent defeats at West Ham and Nottingham Forest have left them nine points behind the top four.

They will need to enhance their league form to silence Ten Hag’s critics, but the FA Cup could potentially offer some much-needed relief, just as the EFL Cup victory supplemented last season’s third-place finish. On the flip side, the repercussions could be damaging. A loss to League One strugglers Wigan Athletic on Monday night, and the crisis at Old Trafford will deepen further.

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