Wholesale changes, empty seats & wonder goals – what we learned from FA Cup weekend

There were some big squad numbers on display at Anfield for Liverpool

A total of 132 team changes were made by the 19 Premier League sides in FA Cup third-round action this weekend.

Sheffield United, eighth in the top flight, fielded an entirely different starting XI for their 2-1 win over National League AFC Fylde.

There were 20 changes alone in the all-Championship Charlton-West Brom tie.

Attendances were also significantly down as Premier League and Championship sides saw a combined drop of more than 150,000 on their previous home gates.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder admitted that the early stages of the FA Cup had lost the appeal of years gone by.

“It’s certainly lost a touch in the build-up to it,” he said.

“You never used to see any changes in the third round. But the introduction, rise and growth of the Premier League means that’s by far the biggest competition in this country.

“I hope people understand why we made 11 changes.”

Only four top-flight sides made fewer than five changes, while the 23 Championship clubs made a total of 166 alterations to their starting sides.

Number of changes to starting XIs made by Premier League teams for FA Cup third-round
Team Changes Team Changes
Sheffield United 11 Manchester United 7
Leicester 10 Manchester City 7
Southampton 10 Bournemouth 6
Aston Villa 9 Newcastle 5
Chelsea 9 Crystal Palace 5
Watford 9 Wolves 4
Liverpool 9 Tottenham 3
Burnley 8 West Ham 3
Norwich 8 Everton 2
Brighton 7

Line-ups aside, there were plenty of other things to note from a busy weekend of FA Cup action…

Where were all the fans?

Only 5,828 were present for Cardiff against Carlisle

One other notable element of the weekend’s FA Cup action was the number of empty seats at stadiums across the country.

Traditionally a landmark moment in the football calendar, the third round saw attendances at Premier League and Championship grounds significantly down.

Of the teams from those two divisions playing at home, only one – Middlesbrough, who hosted Tottenham – saw an increased attendance compared to their previous home fixture.

Sheffield United completely closed the Kop stand at Bramall Lane, meaning only three sides of the ground were open, while Cardiff narrowly avoided registering their lowest attendance at the Cardiff City Stadium – their 5,828 against Carlisle surpassing the 4,111 who watched their Carabao Cup tie against Luton in August.

One of Saturday’s upsets came at Craven Cottage, where Championship Fulham knocked out Aston Villa, but even that game was watched by a relatively paltry 12,980, way down on the 18,575 who attended the Cottagers’ league game against Reading three days earlier.

Top 10 Premier League/Championship changes in attendance over FA Cup weekend
Team FA Cup attendance Previous home attendance Drop
Sheffield United 11,133 30,222 19,089
Cardiff 5,828 23,583 17,755
Charlton 6,426 18,058 11,632
Burnley 8,043 19,561 11,518
Birmingham 7,330 18,616 11,286
Bristol City 9,730 20,858 11,128
Southampton 20,091 30,976 10,885
Brighton 20,349 30,559 10,210
Crystal Palace 15,507 25,462 9,955
Watford 14,373 20,584 6,211

An ‘uncomfortable’ weekend for VAR

While the video assistant referee system has divided opinion in the Premier League, this weekend it divided the FA Cup itself.

VAR technology was in use – but only at Premier League grounds.

So it was not in operation at Middlesbrough, where Tottenham felt the hosts’ goal should have been ruled out for offside, but it will be in operation for the replay at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following the 1-1 draw.

And the fact it was in use at some grounds but not others was a cause for concern for BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pat Nevin.

“Some teams have got it today and some teams haven’t and that’s uncomfortable,” he said.

There was a rare occurrence at Selhurst Park, where referee Michael Oliver broke from the Premier League norm by consulting the pitchside monitor for a key FA Cup decision.

After doing so, he changed his verdict, sending off Palace captain Luka Milivojevic after initially giving him only a yellow following a tussle with Derby’s Tom Huddlestone.

Curtis Jones’ stunning first goal for Liverpool gives them win over Everton

A weekend for long-range wonder goals

While managers made changes galore and some stadiums were half-empty, some of those players who were selected took their chances – and fans were rewarded with stunning goals.

Here are a few of the best strikes – and more memorable moments – from the weekend’s action…

Curtis Jones’ stunning first goal for Liverpool gives them win over Everton
What a goal! ‘Fantastic’ Arter strike gives Fulham win against Villa
Oxford’s Baptiste scores solo stunner in win over Hartlepool
FA Cup: Blackpool’s Armand Gnanduillet hits ‘Panenka’ penalty on to bar at Reading
Birmingham sub sent off & concedes penalty 98 seconds after coming on

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