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Should Premier League clubs rest players for FA Cup?

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This weekend, FA Cup fixtures replace the usual league matchups.

In an incredible display of long-shot odds, there were eight Premier League teams and eight lower-division opponents in the draw, and not a single Premier League team was drawn against another top-flight side. The age-old question of squad rotation rears its head this weekend, and with the competition winding down, it’s a question of whether top-flight clubs rest players for the Cup and risk an embarrassing upset, or play the first-choice lineup and skip the chance for rest amid an otherwise busy time of year for teams still in the tournament.

So, let’s go chronologically through each matchup and look at the situation for each top-flight team.

Burnley vs. Lincoln City, Saturday 7:30 a.m. ET

Burnley sits in 12th place in the Premier League table, 10 points above the relegation zone and 11 points behind the final potential Europa League place in seventh. The Clarets take on non-league side Lincoln City, one of two semi-professional teams in the Round of 16. With little to fight for amid mid-table obscurity in league play, it would be foolish for Burnley to rest the starters and risk becoming the next victim of Lincoln City’s amazing run. They don’t have another league match until the next weekend, and aren’t in any other competition to fill up the schedule. Easy decision.

Millwall vs. Leicester City, Saturday 10:00 a.m. ET

Leicester City is in the midst of a fierce relegation battle just a season after winning the Premier League title. The Foxes still have not fallen into the relegation zone, but sit just one point above danger. By that thought, it’s clear the Foxes should rest their players. However, the win in the last FA Cup round seemed to provide a boost to morale amid a five-match losing streak in league play, and despite it not translating into points, giving the club a bigger chance to win could boost the team down the road. Still, it would seem resting the starters could be the smarter play here given the circumstances.

Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester City, Saturday 10:00 a.m. ET

Huddersfield Town is on a roll in Championship play and could give Manchester City a good run. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Huddersfield Town is on a roll in the Championship. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

This is a tough draw for Manchester City, at least one of the tougher draws given the lower division opponents in the pool. Huddersfield is battling for a playoff spot in the Championship, sitting in third, six points clear in the playoffs and on a five-match league winning streak. Manchester City, meanwhile, is just hoping to stay within striking distance of leaders Chelsea, eight points back. They’re still in the Champions League as well, matched up with Monaco. With City on three fronts, and the FA Cup a distant third in the pecking order, they will likely rest some of the older players such as David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, and Yaya Toure. City has a deep enough squad to rotate players and still be heavily favored against a strong Championship side.

Middlesbrough vs. Oxford United, Saturday 10:00 a.m. ET

Boro takes on League One side Oxford United, and this looks similar to the Leicester situation. With Aitor Karanka‘s side in an eight-match winless run in league play and just two points above relegation, resting the starters is smart here against a mid-table League One opponent coming to town.

Wolves vs. Chelsea, Saturday 12:30 a.m. ET

Chelsea’s in great shape in Premier League play, eight points clear of anyone else and the huge favorites to claim the title. This is an obvious choice – play the boys. Sure, an injury to a key player like Diego Costa would be rough for the title run, but they have enough cushion and squad depth to push through it, and a domestic double would truly lead to a famous season for the Blues. Do I think Antonio Conte will play crucial pieces like Costa, Gary Cahill, and Cesar Azpilicueta? No, because I think he uses the opportunity to give Michy Batshuayi, Kurt Zouma, and Nathan Ake a run. But I think he should. A loss to struggling lower-division opponents like Wolves (on a three-match league losing streak) would put a damper on an otherwise stellar season.

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Sunday 9:00 a.m. ET

This is maybe the most fascinating matchup of the weekend. Mauricio Pochettino‘s club is in the midst of a goal drought, with just one goal in their last four matches across all competitions, and a strong lineup disappointed mightily on the road in Europa League play on Thursday. So, should Pochettino give the starters a rest having just played midweek and scheduled for yet another midweek game at Wembley just four days later? Or should he give the main men another runout to get back on top of things?

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho thinks Man United played poorly in 3-0 win ]

With Spurs reeling, a loss here is a decent possibility against a possession-heavy Championship side, especially if Slavisa Jokanovic deploys his starters at Craven Cottage, which is admittedly unlikely with the Whites holding an outside shot at the playoffs and needing every point possible in league play. Also consider Pochettino rested Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son against Gent, although both were needed off the bench in the eventual 1-0 loss. It will be interesting to see his, and Fulham’s, lineup come Sunday morning; Pochettino’s high-pressing style is a bad matchup for counter-prone Fulham no matter who is on the field, so maybe the boss believes that will win him the game even with fringe players.

Blackburn vs. Manchester United, Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET

As the Premier League top four continue to falter and Manchester United continues to perform, suddenly the Red Devils have Champions League life. However, trophies have become more precious to Manchester United fans as the steady flow has dried up following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. This is the dilemma for Jose Mourinho as he travels to Ewood Park. Against a club fighting for its Championship lives at the bottom of the table, it’s likely that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David De Gea, Paul Pogba, and other essential players could see the bench. However, also consider that United’s 3-0 win against St. Etienne on Thursday means that next week’s Europa League second leg presents yet another opportunity to rest starters, meaning the usual suspects could see the field in FA Cup action. Mourinho will have to pick and choose when to rest what players, and we’ll get a view into his mind when seeing the lineup card on Sunday.

Sutton United vs. Arsenal, Sunday 2:55 p.m. ET

This is a no-brainer for Arsene Wenger. Amid the turmoil surrounding the Gunners, with calls for Wenger’s job and the disaster at Bayern Munich, a loss to non-league Sutton United would send the North London club into absolute chaos. While the Gunners hang on for dear life in the Premier League top four, Wenger is forced into playing his starters. Should he rest players and the club loses, it would truly release the hounds, something the club cannot afford as it reaches the stretch run of Premier League play. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and the rest of the regulars must play, especially with little riding on the midweek Champions League second leg as the matchup is all but over.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.