FA Cup fourth round: Why starting line-up changes made by Premier League teams are on the rise

For the third round matches earlier this month a staggering 129 changes were made by all 20 Premier League clubs

Amir Mir,Matt Adams
Tuesday 09 February 2016 16:41 GMT
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Eddie Howe made 11 changes in the third round
Eddie Howe made 11 changes in the third round (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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The number of changes made by Premier League clubs to their starting XI for FA Cup matches from their previous Premier League game is on the rise once again.

For the third round matches earlier this month a staggering 129 changes were made by all 20 Premier League clubs. AFC Bournemouth lead the way by making 11 changes for their tie away at Birmingham City.

The total number of changes made this season is 13 more than last season’s total, while it is 15 more than the total for the 2013/14 season.

So what has brought about this rise in changes?

Fixture congestion

From the date of the FA Cup second round, 5 December 2015 to the date of the FA Cup third round, all 20 Premier League teams played six league matches. Also scheduled during that time were the final round of Champions League and Europa League Group Stage games and the first legs of the two Capital One Cup semi-finals that were played on 5 and 6 January respectively.

Add to that there were a round of Premier League matches scheduled for after the third round ties on 12 and 13 January, it was inevitable that Premier League teams would make at least one change to their starting XI (as Newcastle United did), and unsurprisingly there were contrasting fortunes.

Table toppers Leicester City made eight changes for their drawn tie with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane and then brought back the same eight players for their next league match (also at White Hart Lane) which they duly won 1-0.

While Oxford United took advantage of Swansea City’s decision to make 10 changes to their starting line-up by beating the Swans 3-2 and causing the upset of the round. Swansea brought back the rested players for their next Premier League match with Sunderland but ended up losing 2-4 at the Liberty Stadium.

Playing a large amount of games in the lead up to the third round isn’t anything new. Back in the 2010/11 season, Premier League teams played eight matches between the 27 November 2010 and 8 January 2011.

For that season’s third round both Arsenal and Blackpool led the way with nine changes from their previous league game. Arsenal would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the competition that year losing to Manchester United, while Blackpool crashed out to then League One side Southampton. Then Tangerines' manager Ian Holloway’s decision to prioritise Premier League survival over a cup run backfired as well, as his team would be relegated on the final day of the season.

Prize money and television revenue

Whilst a good cup run brings in much needed financial rewards for lower league clubs, it pales into significance when compared to the riches on offer in the Premier League.

Winning the trophy is no doubt a special moment for both players and supporters alike, but if you were to ask many Premier League chairman – and maybe even some managers – it is far more imperative that they stay in the top flight, particularly with the new television rights deal coming to in play from next season.

Arsenal received £1.8m for winning the trophy in 2014 and 2015, around £700k less than what relegated Burnley picked up for finishing 19th in the Premier League last season. While the Gunners' opponents in the 2015 final, Aston Villa (who received £900k for finishing runners up), picked up over £3m more for finishing in 17th position.

This season’s prize money is also set at £1.8m thanks in part to the sponsorship deal agreed with Emirates last year. Though as mentioned earlier, in August the prize money will once again be dwarfed by the riches on offer in the Premier League.

Under the terms of the new domestic television deal, all Premier League teams will receive a guaranteed £38m, while they’ll also obtain £47m from overseas rights. Add to that the ‘merit money’ awarded due to league position, the team that finishes bottom of the table will head to the Sky Bet Championship £97m better off.

As for the teams that qualify for European competitions they’ll also be rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Leicester for example, would receive £9.7m if they were to reach the Champions League group stage. While qualification for the Europa League group stages brings in £1.83m.

Can we expect the same for the fourth round?

With another round of Premier League matches scheduled to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week it seems likely that the trend of managers making changes will continue, especially with there being only three all Premier League ties in this seasons Fourth Round.

Since the third round there have been three rounds of Premier League matches, the second leg of the League Cup semi-finals and also the small matter of FA Cup third round replays.

Though fear not, the Premier League teams who qualified for last season’s fourth round made on average four changes to their starting XI’s this was down from six in 2013-14. This suggests that there are managers out there who still take the competition seriously.

There’s also no Capital One Cup or European football until next month, so for those left in it they can afford to pick their strongest team particularly Chelsea for which the FA Cup represents their best chance of silverware this season.

And who knows? A victory this weekend would net a Premier League club £90,000, money that could be used to pay a January transfer window signings wages, for a week at least.

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