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FA Cup forced to evolve once again but remains a touch of reassuring normality

The annals of FA Cup history will not carry an asterisk next to the name of the 2020/21 winners.

There will be no official nod to the health crisis playing havoc with football and one of its most iconic competitions.

What if the worst came to the worst and ties in rounds leading up to the final had to be forfeited?

The name on the trophy would still be engraved as deeply as any other.

Chelsea won the FA Cup in 2000 and that triumph is no different from any of their seven other successes.

Despite the furore at the time, few remember that holders Manchester United did not take part in that season’s competition.

So no-one is going to dwell on the fact some teams had to play the kids in some games in the 2020/21 edition.

Who will win this year’s FA Cup?

After all, since when, scandalously, have the majority of Premier League and Championship sides gone full-strength in the early stages of their cup campaigns?

Covid means Derby County have to send a young second string to Chorley on Saturday but Wayne Rooney was probably never going to field a bona fide first choice eleven anyhow.

Things are not ideal, to state the blindingly obvious.

No Rooney on the touchline, no senior players at all for Derby on Saturday

Drawing the fixtures for the fourth round and the fifth round at the same time is hardly in keeping with FA Cup tradition.

But FA Cup tradition has been an evolving quality for a long time now. We’ve had draws made when ties have yet it be played for a while.

As the grim Covid statistics roll in day after day, there is no telling how this football season will pan out.

It goes without saying public health relegates a sport to an incidental.

But the Premier League is ploughing on as it falls into the category of an elite competition.

Well, there is no more elite competition than the grand, old FA Cup.

In these dark times, we cling to small symbols of reassuring normality.

And there is nothing more thrillingly normal than a mighty, rich club such as Spurs scrapping with part-timers on a brute of a pitch on a filthy January day.

Nothing more thrillingly normal than the FA Cup being raised towards a Wembley sky in May.

That is why, in whatever form, the show is going on.

Should the FA Cup have been scrapped this season? Have your say in the comments.

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Mourinho warns Tottenham could refuse to play if further matches are postponed

Jose Mourinho has sent a scathing warning to the footballing authorities that his Tottenham side will refuse to play two midweek games again amid a potential fixture pile-up.

Spurs’ Premier League game against Fulham was recently postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in their opponents’ squad.

And their match against Aston Villa scheduled for next Wednesday could be at risk too for the same reason.

With Spurs still involved in the Europa League and kicking off their FA Cup campaign against Non-League side Marine this weekend, it means they could be set for a hectic few months of action.

But speaking ahead of the match against Marine, Mourinho warned he and his team would not be bullied with regards to rearranged fixtures.

Jose Mourinho and his side could soon be facing a heavily congested fixture list

“It is a completely impossible position for a club to have three matches postponed, especially if that club plays in Europe,” he said.

“We thought we might be having to play a game if we had only 14 players available from whole squad, including academy. We were prepared for that.

“We had positive cases. We cannot deny. Players, coaches, other staff. We have had problems.

And when asked, Mourinho said he and his side would refuse to participate if they are scheduled to play four game in a week again.

At the start of the season Spurs played two Premier League games, a Carabao Cup tie and a Europa League match within the space of seven days.

And Mourinho added: “The only thing we can say is that what we did in the beginning of the season is impossible to repeat and we refuse to repeat. We would never accept to play seven matches in three weeks like we did before.”

Spurs play eighth-tier side Marine in the FA Cup on Sunday

Meanwhile, Mourinho will be hoping to avoid the biggest upset in FA Cup history when his side take on eighth-tier Marine on Sunday.

He added: “If we lose it would mean a lack of respect from us. The best way to respect them is to win.

“They want to play a Tottenham first team, and we want to give them that respect. They don’t want to play an under-23 side.”

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Ian Wright sets Arsenal ambitious target for rest of season amid improved form

Ian Wright believes Arsenal should be attempting to challenge for a place in the top six as a result of their rapidly-improving form.

The Gunners had a dreadful start to the season and at one stage looked like they would genuinely be battling relegation.

But Mikel Arteta’s side have now won three Premier League games in a row against Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom and have climbed to 11th place.

Following the FA Cup this weekend they have a relatively kind-looking set of upcoming fixtures in the league against Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Southampton.

And speaking on the Kelly and Wrighty Show, the Gunners’ legendary former striker said the future is now looking bright.

Arsenal are back on track after winning three games in a row

“If Arsenal got anywhere near the top six and they start to create and do what we’re seeing now in the last few games, I’d be happy with that, for now,” Wright said.

“I think that the confidence that will be going through the guys now, they’ll be looking forward to those games.

“Whereas a couple of weeks ago, before the three wins, they would be games where you’d be thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this could be quite intense for Arsenal.'”

Wright believes the mentality of certain players has completely changed recently, and thinks teams will now begin to fear playing the Gunners once more.

Mikel Arteta and his side may now be targeting a top six finish
Mikel Arteta and his side may now be targeting a top six finish

“Before the Chelsea game they had a run of games where you couldn’t see Arsenal winning, with the form that they were in,” he added.

“But in the Premier League, three wins changes everything.

“It changes the confidence, you’ve got players who can’t wait to play and Arsenal look like a different proposition to teams now.

“The two [Premier League] games coming up now, Arsenal will feel like they can win those games.”

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Aston Villa vs Liverpool kick-off time, TV and live stream details

Last season Liverpool sent their under-23s to Villa Park for the Carabao Cup quarter-final while the first team was in Qatar for the Club World Cup.

This time it is Aston Villa’s turn to field a team of youngsters because of a wave of positive Covid-19 tests washing through the West Midlands club.

Neither boss Dean Smith nor his first team stars will be present on Friday night.

Instead under-23s boss Mark Delaney will take charge and send out a team of youngsters in an ironic reversal of last season.

Liverpool meanwhile will be able to rely on a number of first team regulars, though don’t be surprised to see Jurgen Klopp rotate his squad.

What time is Aston Villa vs Liverpool?

Aston Villa vs Liverpool is one of two FA Cup third round ties that kick off at 7.45pm on Friday.

The other is a stone’s throw away at Wolves where another all-Premier League tie will see Nuno Espirito Santo’s men welcome Crystal Palace to Molineux.

Both matches will be decided tonight as there are no replays in this year’s FA Cup.

Aston Villa vs Liverpool TV channel and live stream

BT Sport will be showing Friday night’s all-Premier League clash at Villa Park.

Coverage will begin on BT Sport 1 at 7pm, and subscribers will be able to stream the match through the BT Sport app.

Aston Villa vs Liverpool odds

Aston Villa beat Liverpool 7-2 earlier in the season, but a repeat of that scoreline is highly unlikely tonight

If you were quick, you might have been able to ‘buy money.’ Villa were a big price earlier this week.

But a Covid outbreak at Villa’s training ground means that the champions will now be taking on a team of under-23 and under-18 players – with not even Villa’s senior management team present at Villa Park.

It’s a direct role reversal of last season’s League Cup quarter-final, when Liverpool were winning the Club World Cup, and Villa trounced the Reds’ youngsters 5-0.

As a result the best price available on the Reds now is 1/6, but they are as short as 1/10 with some bookies.

A Villa win ranges from 12/1 to 18/1.

Over 2.5 goals is a measly 1/4 with over 4.5 only 6/4. At least there should be goals to watch this evening – mostly from Reds fringe players like Takumi Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri.

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Jurgen Klopp suggests he made Takumi Minamino mistake amid Liverpool struggles

Jurgen Klopp has admitted that he may have made a mistake by leaving Takumi Minamino out of his side in recent weeks.

Minamino is expected to return to Klopp’s starting XI for the FA Cup clash with Aston Villa on Friday night as the Reds seek revenge for the 7-2 drubbing earlier this season.

The Japan international has been hit and miss since joining the Reds 12 months ago, scoring four goals in 29 appearances.

Minamino impressed in his last appearance which came in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace as he scored their opening goal.

Since then, Liverpool have drawn with West Brom and Newcastle, before losing to Southampton last weekend

Takumi Minamino has not hit the ground running at Liverpool

And Klopp has admitted that he may have made a mistake by omitting Minamino since then as their form dipped.

Giving his verdict on Minamino’s first year at the club, Klopp said: “You come in, a new club and everybody thinks that you will score 20, 30, 40 goals and stuff like this.

“He is in a good shape – a really good shape – he developed, he got used to it.

“He was a good player when we signed him, obviously, but he got used to the intensity, the league, training, all this stuff.

Takumi Minamino opened the scoring after just three minutes, his first Premier League goal for the club...
Minamino scored his first Premier League goal in the win over Crystal Palace

“He made big steps. I know the last game he played was Crystal Palace and since then we didn’t win another [game], so we should think about involving him, obviously.”

Minamino could still see more game time due to the injury to Diogo Jota which Klopp explained may see the Portuguese sidelined for some time.

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“It will still take time, he is still wearing a brace, so that means he is still a few weeks away from team training,” Klopp said of Jota’s blow.

“There is nothing really to say, it takes time. There was no surgery needed, which was good, but it was a proper injury.

“It is not a little knock or something; no, no, and it will still take time. There is no real timeframe there.”

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Liverpool will face Aston Villa kids if FA Cup third round fixture gets go-ahead

Aston Villa are sweating on the test results of their Under-23 squad as their FA Cup third round clash with Liverpool hangs in the balance.

A host of positive Covid-19 test results have swept through the club’s Bodymoor Heath training ground this week, putting the game in question.

Villa shut the doors to their training ground on Thursday after what the club described as a “significant” outbreak among the first team players and staff.

Players and staff took their routine tests on Monday, and saw an unusually high return of positive tests, leading a number to head into self-isolation.

A second round of testing duly led to further positive results on Thursday, which saw the cancellation of first-team training.

Now boss Dean Smith and all of his first team stars, including captain Jack Grealish, plus staff in the first-team bubble, won’t be anywhere near Villa Park if Friday night’s encounter is allowed to go ahead.

Villa star man Grealish, first team regulars and Dean Smith are set to miss the match

The FA have been in discussions with Villa as all parties desperately try to find a solution to play the fixture.

But with rescheduling the game before the Fourth Round all but impossible due to fixture congestion, if the game goes ahead, it will be Under-23 boss Mark Delaney and his kids taking centre stage.

However, with some of the U23s also set to miss out having been involved in first-team training too recently, a number of Under-18s will be bumped up to ensure that the young squad has enough numbers.

It is a complete role reversal of last season’s Carabao Cup quarter-final, in which the Reds were forced to put out a young side with their seniors in the Middle East competing in the Club World Cup. Villa duly won that game 5-0.

If the game is played, Jurgen Klopp’s men will be heavy favourites

Delaney will pick from whichever youngsters are available to him after further test results return to the club on Friday morning.

However, if more positive results are forthcoming, then the Villans – seven time winners – may well be forced to forfeit their place in the competition.

It would leave next Wednesday’s Premier League showdown with Spurs in doubt also.

There is no hard and fast rule to decide Villa’s fate, as shown by two other games also left the world’s most famous cup competition in chaos.

The FA have told clubs that, in practice, they must fulfil their tie if they have a minimum of 14 players fit and available, i.e. not suffering from the virus and not self-isolating due to be being a close contact.

Shrewsbury’s clash with Southampton has been cancelled and may be forfeited after a number of the League One club’s players and staff tested positive, leaving

However Championship side Derby County are sending a team made up of Under-18s and Under-23s to Chorley for their tie, having already confirmed that already confirmed that interim manager Wayne Rooney and his entire first-team squad won’t make the trip.

Like Villa vs Liverpool, that match, and the clash between Brentford and Middlesbrough – who are in a similar situation to the Rams – remains on at present.

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Altered Aston Villa tie could be perfect opportunity for five Liverpool players

At time of writing it appears as though Aston Villa and Liverpool could be set for something of a role reversal on Friday night.

It was 13 months ago that a youthful Reds side headed to Villa Park for a Carabao Cup quarter-final while their more senior teammates were over in Qatar at the Club World Cup.

Liverpool’s kids actually acquitted themselves quite well for much of the game, but in the end they were somewhat battered and bruised by a much more experienced Villa side, who won 5-0.

This time around, and in the FA Cup, it is Villa who look like they could be fielding the kids as a coronavirus outbreak has ripped through the first-team squad.

As is also the case at Derby, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, all of the club’s senior stars could be forced to stay away as the Villans pick the kids.

Liverpool’s young side were beaten 5-0 at Villa in December 2019

So what does that mean for Liverpool?

Jurgen Klopp was probably always going to use this game to rest a few of his big names, but if the calibre of the opposition is reduced somewhat then this might be a great chance for some of Liverpool’s lesser lights to shine.

Here are five for whom this could be the perfect game.

Rhys Williams

Williams has seen more action than he would have expected this season
Williams has seen more action than he would have expected this season

We’ll start with a kid of Liverpool’s own.

Williams was away at Kidderminster Harriers when the Carabao Cup tie took place last season, but he’ll expect to add to his 10 senior Reds appearances this time around.

That number is already far more than he would have expected of course, and the teenager will surely relish the chance to take on players his own age.

Nat Phillips

Phillips is another Liverpool defender who has been thrust into the limelight
Phillips is another Liverpool defender who has been thrust into the limelight

At 23, Phillips is actually a few months older than Joe Gomez, the man he has effectively replaced this season, but in terms of experience the pair could hardly be more different.

The centre-back hasn’t let anyone down when he’s been called upon this season, but the fact remains that this is perhaps one of the unlikelier Liverpool careers of recent times, as the centre-back was on the verge of leaving the club in the summer.

Klopp has chosen Phillips’ games carefully, and this is probably going to be another one.

Xherdan Shaqiri

Shaqiri has come off the bench in Liverpool's last two matches
Shaqiri has come off the bench in Liverpool’s last two matches

Shaqiri’s latest return to the fold has seen him come on and join a frustrated attack in the matches at Newcastle and Southampton, but you’d think he should get the space he craves if he starts here.

The Swiss attacker certainly possesses quality when he’s fit and available, of that there is no doubt, and he’d surely relish a chance to put on a show in front of Klopp.

His long-term future at the club might still be in doubt, but you do sometimes get an inkling that he still has a part to play this season.

Takumi Minamino

Minamino scored in his last appearance against Crystal Palace
Minamino scored in his last appearance against Crystal Palace

Eyebrows were raised when Minamino was brought in for Mo Salah for last month’s trip to Crystal Palace, but he subsequently scored after three minutes and went on to play for full 90.

And since then, he’s not kicked a ball.

With Jurgen Klopp admitting that he should probably start using the Japanese international a little bit more, he’ll surely get a game here.

Divock Origi

Origi has only scored once so far this season
Origi has only scored once so far this season

That Carabao Cup game in December 2019 proved to be the perfect chance for a couple of misfiring Villa strikers to get back amongst the goals.

Jonathan Kodjia bagged a brace and big summer signing Wesley also managed to score, and it could be that this proves to be a decent opportunity for Origi to find his shooting boots.

Still at the club despite numerous links away, the Belgian could target the youthful hosts as he looks for some confidence building strikes.

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Gary Lineker admits fear as coronavirus puts Aston Villa vs Liverpool in doubt

Liverpool’s FA Cup third-round tie against Aston Villa looks set to be scrapped due to a Covid-19 outbreak at the Midlands club, and Gary Lineker feels football in general could follow suit.

Villa reported a “significant” outbreak at the club on Thursday, and were forced to close their training ground.

That led to fears the game could be scrapped, with Southampton ’s game against Shrewsbury already postponed.

Shrewsbury confirmed a number of positive cases earlier on Thursday, and were unable to name 14 fit players.

The FA had previously stated that games will still go ahead provided teams can register 14 fit players at least, and that any team unable to do so would forefit their matches.

Gary Lineker has admitted he is worried about football being scrapped

News of Villa and Shrewsbury’s outbreaks comes on the same day as the UK announced more than 1,000 Covid-related deaths for the second day in succession.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already declared all non-elite sport must stop, with non-league clubs bearing the brunt of that decision.

But Lineker believes it’s only a matter of time before all football is halted.

Aston Villa’s FA Cup tie against Liverpool could be postponed

Tweeting after the Villa outbreak was confirmed, he admitted to fearing the worst.

“It appears highly likely that Aston Villa’s cup tie with Liverpool will be called off after a Covid outbreak in the Villa camp,” Lineker posted.

“I fear football might succumb in the next few weeks.”

Football fans will know all-too-well that there is precedent for halting competitions, as all football was previously suspended for three months last year.

When that happened, all football was scrapped in March of 2020, when Liverpool were on the brink of the Premier League title and teams up and down the footballing ladder were fighting for promotion and against relegation.

But only the Championship and Premier League resumed, with the lower leagues scrapping their campaigns entirely and deciding the final standings on a points-per-game basis.

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FA Cup Covid-19 rules as uncertainty surrounds Villa vs Liverpool tie and more

Coronavirus has already put paid to one of the FA Cup third round ties this weekend, but several others seem set to go ahead with clubs selecting shadow squads due to players being forced into self-isolation.

The clash between Southampton and Shrewsbury at St Mary’s has already been called off as the Shrews reported a “quite astronomical” number of positive cases in their squad earlier this week.

Chief executive Brian Caldwell said that the new variant of the virus had “wiped through” the club and meant that it would be unsafe for them to travel to Southampton and fulfil the fixture.

With some of the players who haven’t tested positive deemed to be close contacts of the positive cases, it has meant that the League One Shrews are unable to cobble together a team to take on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men.

Shrewsbury Town may have to forfeit their game with Southampton

The FA have told clubs that, in practice, they must fulfil their tie if they have a minimum of 14 players fit and available, i.e. not suffering from the virus and not self-isolating due to be being a close contact.

No club will be forced to forfeit their tie immediately, with the FA aware of the increasingly fraught individual circumstances of different clubs.

However the FA do want any postponed ties to take place before the fourth round starts on January 23. This presents a problem for Shrewsbury as Southampton face Leeds in the Premier League on January 20.

The FA’s Professional Game Board will meet next week to discuss the postponed fixtures, but it seems likely that Shrewsbury may have to forfeit the tie as they simply don’t have enough players to play in it.

Derby County have already confirmed that interim manager Wayne Rooney and his entire first-team squad won’t make the trip to Chorley for Saturday lunchtime’s third round tie, but that match is still on.

Wayne Rooney won't be at Chorley vs Derby
Wayne Rooney won’t be at Chorley vs Derby

A team made up of Derby’s under-23s and under-18s players will take on the National League North side, with under-23s coach Pat Lyons and Gary Bowyer taking charge.

An additional problem for Derby is that six of their more promising under-23s players have been training as part of the first-team ‘bubble’ in recent weeks, meaning they may still not have enough players for the fixture.

Aston Villa could also be forced to field a young side for Friday night’s all Premier League tie at home to Liverpool after they confirmed a “significant” outbreak at the club on Thursday.

With Villa facing a Premier League match against Tottenham next midweek and then both clubs playing midweek matches the week after, it seems unlikely that the game could be rescheduled if it has to be postponed.

That raises the possibility of Villa forfeiting the match should they not be able to raise a side, although their vast youth resources means they should be able to.

Liverpool fielded a young team at Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup last season
Liverpool fielded a young team at Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup last season

Ironically, Liverpool fielded their under-23 side against Villa in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals last season as the first-team were away at the Club World Cup, and it seems as though the roles could be reversed as a young Villa side takes to the pitch this time around.

Sheffield Wednesday are another club to confirm ‘significant’ Covid cases among the first-team squad, including caretaker boss Neil Thompson, ahead of their tie at Exeter.

Middlesbrough, who faced Wednesday in the Championship last week, are also struggling with what the club call ‘a number of positive tests’ ahead of their tie at Brentford.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche has also confirmed that the Clarets have a small number of cases ahead of their third round clash with the MK Dons.

Sean Dyche says there are "a couple" of positive cases at Burnley
Sean Dyche says there are “a couple” of positive cases at Burnley

“We have got a couple of cases that will affect us,” he said.

“We have some at the moment and we are having to be wise and re-pod the players.

“The worry for us across the sport is the knock-on effect. We have a couple of cases, which could affect us over the next few days.

“It’s a tough challenge for all, so we’re having to be wise and push the rules as hard as we can, to stop any future cases.”

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Football manager calls for Premier League stars to get Covid vaccine priority

Sean Dyche claims Premier League players should be vaccinated to protect the game’s integrity.

Dyche revealed Burnley are the latest club to be hit by coronavirus.

However, they should have enough players to fulfil Saturday’s FA Cup tie at home to MK Dons.

But Dyche is worried clubs are being handicapped by the numbers of players and contacts having to self-isolate.

And he feels vaccination is the solution.

“My view, and I’m not saying it’s the view, but vaccination is the way forward for football,” said the Burnley boss.


“I appreciate some people will be surprised by that comment.

“But if you think about it, we all wanted football back, there’s the cash it generates through tax, the well-being it generates with the obvious most high-profile one being Marcus Rashford and what he achieved.

“You look at the amount spent on testing in the Premier League, that money could then be channelled back into the NHS and into the vaccination system.

“Surely that’s better than just continually testing a load of footballers two or three times a week?

“I appreciate some people will say why should footballers get vaccinated etc?

“But 20 Premier League clubs with say 100 people vaccinated, the payback to the NHS would be considerable.

“If you vaccinate, you don’t need to keep testing and that money could be used for a much-better cause while football would stay a competitive industry rather than one that might end up skewed because of players missing games.”

Dyche also Dyche claims it will still be hard for Burnley to sign anyone this month, despite ALK Capital’s takeover.

New owner Alan Pace has promised to back Dyche in the January transfer window and the Clarets boss is interested in signing Manchester United ’s Phil Jones.

But Dyche is not optimistic about bringing in any new faces because January is a difficult window.

“Nothing has changed from before the takeover,” he said. “January is a very, very tough window.

“Not many clubs want to lose their players and the odd time you might get someone in.

“There are things we have talked about and possible options, so we’ll wait and see. I’m not banking on it, looking at it is a better way to put it.”

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