Changes expected, but Burnley boss feels FA Cup magic still alive
A travelling army of Clarets fans will roar on their side at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
But their side, like many this weekend, will be vastly different to the one on duty at home to Liverpool on New Year’s Day.
There will be a sell out 7,600 allocation hoping to see Burnley pull off what would be one of the shocks of the round, but boss Sean Dyche, while a big admirer of the world’s most famous knockout competition, accepts it is common sense to make changes, even against the runaway Premier League leaders.
The timing of the third round, with New Year’s Day being Burnley’s fourth game in 10 days, and the need to rest players and give squad players game time, means the likes of Anders Lindegaard, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, Ashley Westwood, Dean Marney, Jon Walters, Sam Vokes and Nahki Wells are all vying for a start tomorrow.
Many people feel ‘weakened’ teams are one of the reasons the magic of the cup has eroded over time, but Dyche feels it is still there: “I’ve never gone away from that. I’ve tried to be clear when people question me about the cup, that selecting a side is just a business reality – it’s not about the mystique or the glory and the what-ifs.
“Our fans will go there and back the team as they always do, but there’s a what-if – what if we turn Manchester City over? There’s always that bit of marvel in that.
“It’s unusual to be talking like that in the Premier League, but I think Man City have been that powerful that most fans – apart from the very top clubs – would be wondering about that what-if.
“I think that’s the magic of the cup, everyone is looking for the result where the small club beats the big club, or the local rivalry. That’s what we are all looking for in the cup.”
City are unbeaten domestically, and the gap between them and the rest of the Premier League is stark.
So would this be a bigger upset than when Dyche and Chesterfield came so close in 1997 to dumping Middlesbrough - Juninho, Ravanelli et al - out in the semi-final?: “Radical difference. I don’t know how you’d look at it in real terms because you look at Chesterfield to Middlesborough and there was a massive gap in league placings. The difference is there’s now a gap in the same division. That’s the thing that’s changed
“I don’t know what the control of that is. We spoke recently about if you really want a level playing field, then give everyone the same money, or have a draft system.
“So the difference has become that in one division, the same division, what we’re doing compared to them is hugely different.
“Back then it was factually different, because Chesterfield were down there and Middlebrough were up here.
“There was a huge gap. Now we’re the same division, but is some ways there’s probably a bigger gap, when you look at finances etc.
“But that’s just a fact. It’s not about crying it in or feeling jealous. It’s a fact that their owners have backed that club probably more than any other club in the game – well, maybe PSG are on the same level now.”
He added: “It would be a different kind of upset. Because on the other hand we are in the same league.
“We’ve been worthy of some good results this season, so it’s a different thing. I don’t think any of us saw even five years ago how big the gap would get.
“It was always there of course – you always had your Man Us, and your Arsenals, and then I think it was Matthew Harding who started putting big money into Chelsea, and then Abramovic came in and went Bam!
“That’s what changed it all. Since then it’s all escalated and the sheiks have come in and put in massive amounts of money. So now we’re in the same league, but there’s that massive gap in resources – that’s what has changed.
“And the thing we forget is that the Championship has changed too. You look at the budget of, say, Wolves – and who they’ve brought in – and that will match, or go beyond certainly us and maybe five or six other cubs in the Premier League.
“There’s this huge desire to be in the Premier League and there’s players in the Championship earning way more than our lads here – and not just one or two. There’s a lot. And we’re in third year out of four in the Premier League.”
There remain calls for a winter break, and a number of Premier League managers - Pep Guardiola included - have spoken about protecting players against the rigours of the Festive period in England.
Dyche has made the fewest changes to his starting line up of any Premier League manager, but will make changes in the cup: “Well, ours is by necessity. I would love to have gone there fully-equipped I don’t want to speak on behalf of other clubs, but I can only presume they will be thinking ‘can I risk him, can I look at him instead’, or maybe someone has got a knock.
“And that has nothing to do with the mystique of the cup - it just goes back to the business element.
“There are a number of clubs including ourselves, vying to stay in the Premier League, and that does take precedence.
“But I don’t see it as a shame, just a reality. I love the cup but there has to be just a pure business plan of staying in the Prem and growing the club. But on the other hand, are we going there trying to win – of course we are. Absolutely. We’ll be trying our best to win.
“I think the fans may be more understanding of that approach than the media suggests – although I can understand why that is said. In pure business terms the welfare of the club revolves around being in the Premier League. Fact.
“Anything else is a bonus. But it doesn’t mean that as a player when you get on that pitch you don’t want to win. It doesn’t affect that. But the finance and kudos of the Premier League, and what it means to this area goes way beyond that.”