On Sunday, I watched Stoke beat the mighty Arsenal 3-1 in the FA Cup on what has to go down as one of the most enjoyable afternoons at the Britannia Stadium to date. The game had everything a fan could wish for; four goals, some excellent play, particularly in the build up to Stoke''s second goal, controversial referee decisions, passion from the players and fans and ultimately an upset result that leaves Stoke with a chance at Wembley glory.
Tonight, all eyes will turn to another cup competition, the League Cup, as Manchester City take their slender 2-1 lead to the home of arch rivals Manchester United, with a place in the final at Wembley up for grabs. The sub-plots are thicker than United striker Wayne Rooney. After 34 years without winning silverware, a fact which is often mocked by their neighbours, the Blues, enjoying suddenly being the richer of the the two clubs, are close to wiping the smiles off the United fans'' faces, while Carlos Tevez, who made the switch from Old Trafford to Eastlands in the summer, will doubtless be the centre of attention after scoring twice in the first leg embarking on a war of words and gestures with former teammate Gary Neville. It''s a cliché I know, but both gaes are prime examples of "the magic of the cup".
For me, it''s a great shame that so many managers these days do not take cup competitions seriously. Premier League bosses tend to use the competitions these days as a chance to blood youngsters and test out new tactics, without really caring whether they win or not, more focused on league success, which, with the huge financial benefits that come with Premier League achievement, is understandable. It''s telling that three of England''s biggest four clubs, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool are out of the FA Cup after just two games. The managers of all three fielded weakened sides, and have missed the chance to furnish their trophy cabinets.
Even Stoke''s Tony Pulis does it, particularly in the League Cup, and with league games in the midweek before and after the FA Cup fifth round clash at Manchester City, he may well choose to keep his most influential players off the pitch. No fan ever wants to see that and I only hope this dramatic week of action in the cup competitions has helped managers around the country to appreciate their value, and that they begin to take them more seriously again, as when it comes to intrigue and incident, it seems that nothing can beat them.