No second chance in FA Cup as congestion already looms next season - Stuart Rayner

On Thursday, another English footballing tradition fell by the wayside. Hopefully it will be temporary, but there is a good chance it will not.

Arsenal's Andy Linighan celebrates his winner after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 FA Cup final replay. Picture John Stillwell/PA Wire.

With extra games impossible in 2020-21’s lycra-tight calendar, there will be no replays in next season’s FA Cup.

Sheffield Wednesday played Arsenal in the last replayed final in 1993, semi-final replays ended in 1999, and last season they went in the quarter-finals too.

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There is something about the Gunners and replays. They needed four to get past the Owls in 1979 (one short of Alchurch and Oxford City’s record from 1971), and three to beat Leeds United in 1991. The following season the creep of shoot-outs began, Rotherham United defeating Scunthorpe United 7-6 in a first-round replay.

For the super-clubs, replays are inconvenient. Then again, so are cups full stop, except the Champions League. For the little guys, they can be crucial.

Taking a big club back to yours can make a huge difference in the signings lower-league clubs can afford – until the salary cap planned for next season. At least profits at the gate will be equally shared between both sides.

The Cup will be poorer, and not just literally, but 2020-21 must be a season of sacrifices.

The undervalued FA and League Cups will do most of the scrimping. Few others seem willing to offer much up.

The League Cup first round is pencilled in for September 5, set aside for internationals. Even some third-tier clubs get enough call-ups (three) to postpone league games, but with round two the following week, if the ties move, it will be forward.

That could mean Doncaster Rovers starting their season in two-and-a-half weeks. They only resumed group training on Thursday after five months. When clubs have to pare squads back, they will need depth more than ever. Some will celebrate an opening-day defeat.

The League Cup has four rounds to squeeze into September before European and international football gobble up all midweeks until Christmas.

Some will pick the sort of disrespectful XI Liverpool had to when double-booked last season.

The European Super Cup final is in Budapest the Thursday after the League Cup third round. The European champions are due at December’s Club World Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur’s three Europa League qualifiers – reduced to one leg – clash with League Cup rounds, and the FA Cup final, semi-finals and quarter-finals are on Premier League weekends.

The punishments for success have rarely been so harsh.

If either Manchester club reaches a European final, their season will finish next weekend. There has been talk of allowing them to start 2020-21 late but is there room?

As soon as next season ends we must get on with Euro 2020, where the air miles could be even more valuable than prize money.

With 12 rounds of Premier League matches pencilled in for December and January, heaven forbid postponements. We are all wondering what will happen in ‘flu season.

There should have been more give. Cutting back league programmes is difficult but the Nations League will go ahead in September, October and November, with Euro 2020 play-offs amongst it.

Once the qualifying rounds are played, it seems the Europa League will be as overblown as ever, taking six group games to do what one knockout tie could, just like the Champions League. A repeat of this year’s “final eight” competitions in both would help.

The Football League Trophy, where you will struggle to work out if games are behind closed doors, will keep taxing squads least able to cope.

After five months without, many clubs and fans will be grateful just for some football. If it is less than perfect, so be it.

But the game ought to have thought harder about what is worth preserving. Hopefully some sacrifices do not become permanent.

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