Replays are an FA Cup tradition. A knockout match ends in a draw after 90 minutes? Then the visiting team just earned a right to host a rematch at a later date.
COVID-19 is putting that tradition on hold, at least for a couple of rounds in 2021-2022.
With the COVID-19 omicron variant causing fixture chaos across England, forcing postponements and leaving clubs to fit more games into a shorter window of time, the English Football Association, which runs the FA Cup, has decided to scrap replays from the 3rd Round and 4th Round to keep from further straining the schedule.
What happens if FA Cup matches finish in a draw?
The English Football Association (FA) announced in late December 2021 that 3rd and 4th Round replays would be scrapped for this year’s competition, to avoid further strain on the English schedule.
Instead, extra time and a penalty-kick shootout (if necessary) will be used to determine a winner in those rounds, giving a decided advantage to the club that was drawn to host the knockout match.
There have already been 13 replays in the 1st and 2nd Rounds of the competition involving lower-tier clubs. But with the FA’s decision, there will be no replays for the rest of the tournament with the quarterfinals (5th Round, March 19-20), the semifinals (April 23-24) and final (May 14) already being replay-free for the last several years.
Replays for the semfinal stage were nixed beginning in 1999-2000, and since the 2007-2008 season they’ve been played on consecutive weekend days at London’s Wembley Stadium. In 2016-2017 quarterfinal replays were also erased.
The FA announcement made it clear that replays will be back for the 3rd and 4th rounds of the 2022-2023 competition, although any lingering impact of COVID-19 could obviously cause consideration to a similar move down the road.
“This exceptional decision was approved by the FA Board on Friday 17 December and has been taken in the wider interest of English football to alleviate the possibility of fixture congestion following several postponements in recent days and continued uncertainty ahead due to COVID-19,” the statement by the FA read.
A total of 17 Premier League matches have already been postponed, while many others throughout the top four tiers of English football have been pushed. The EFL Cup (Carabao Cup) has also been affected, with the Liverpool-Arsenal series rescheduled. Every game set aside for COVID-19 issues leaves another match needed to be fit in later in the calendar, leaving authorities concerned about the amount of games set to be shoved together over a short period of time.
What is an FA Cup replay?
Unique to the FA Cup is the concept of a replay.
In most knockout tournaments around the world, a winner is required from every game, as one team must be eliminated and one team must advance. Extra time and, if necessary, a penalty-kick shootout are typically used to break ties after 90 minutes though, some tournaments around the world go straight to penalty kicks.
In the FA Cup things are historically done a little differently. In the event of a draw after 90 minutes in Round 1 through Round 4, the game is ended and a replay is scheduled at the away team’s home stadium for a later date, when the two teams will play another 90 minutes. If that match also ends in a draw, only then are extra time and penalties utiilzed.
The concept, in existence since the competition’s inception in 1871, was initially in effect for all rounds, including the final. As recently as the 1990s, there were no penalty shooutouts at all in the competition, meaning teams would play as many replays as needed to find a winner. The last replayed final took place in 1993.
After scrapping replays for the semifinals in 1999-2000, the competition organizers later also did it for the quarterfinals beginning in 2016-17, citing fixture congestion. That only leaves replays in case of ties from the 1st Round through the 4th Round. These replays potentially represent a boon for lower tier clubs which could benefit financially from hosting Premier League opposition.
Premier League clubs enter the competition in the 3rd Round, so there are normally only two rounds in which Premier League clubs can theoretically be forced into a replay though that won’t be the case in 2021-22 given the FA’s decision.