Javi Gracia has some serious selection decisions to make for Leeds United’s FA Cup fifth round trip to Fulham on Tuesday night.

The match is the first of two trips to west London in five days, with Leeds due to play Chelsea in the league on Saturday.

Football wisdom, the quick turnaround between Saturday’s home win over Southampton and the trip to Craven Cottage and Leeds United’s priorities, dictate that the Spaniard prioritise the Chelsea fixture.

So, it will be interesting to see the make-up of the team Gracia will put out against Fulham, a selection he will make with one eye on the crucial league tie at Stamford Bridge four days later which could compound the Graham Potter battle.

All-in or unwanted distraction

For a club like Leeds United whose main priority is to preserve their Premier League status, many (including myself) will argue the FA Cup is an unwanted distraction.

But does Gracia subscribe to that view? Or will he be of the opinion that a good FA Cup run will rub off on his side’s league form and aid their survival bid?

Gracia has been brought in primarily to save Leeds United from relegation – so hopefully that will be his priority. It wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to keep some of his key players wrapped in cotton wool with a view to having them well rested for the Chelsea clash whereby I think we can take a share of the spoils, if not all three points with a full strength team.

Winning breeds confidence

After snapping a 12-match winless streak in the league with victory over Southampton on Saturday, another win four days later would be a massive confidence boost for the players.

However, it would be a blow to fragile confidence if Gracia sends out his strongest team at Craven Cottage and Leeds United still lose. But if he puts out a callow side no Leeds United fan would be despondent about the side crashing out of the FA Cup.

Of course it would be nice to have a good run in the FA Cup, but not at the risk of injury to key players leaving us light for the relegation dogfight.

Opportunity to experiment?

Having arrived barely a week ago, Gracia is still getting to know his players. So he will welcome the opportunity to run the rule over his players in a competitive match situation.

The match against the Cottagers affords the Spaniard the opportunity to try various combinations as the searches for his starting XI. It’s also a chance for players on the fringes of the first team to force their way into the selection reckoning for the crucial league battles ahead.

It would make sense to experiment with Sam Greenwood, Marc Roca, Joel Robles, Rasmus Kristensen and teenager Darko Gyabi in the starting line-up.

Gracia’s love affair with FA Cup

Gracia came within 90 minutes of winning the FA Cup with Watford in 2019. The Hornets’ fairytale ended with a chastening 6-0 demolition by Manchester City in the final. There was no shame in losing to the domestic treble winners.

Will Gracia be hoping for another FA Cup odyssey, this time with Leeds United?

It would be scant consolation if we went on an FA Cup run but struggled to put points on the board in the Premier League.

In fact, in the unlikely event Leeds United won the FA Cup, there is no doubt players would readily swap their medals for retention of our place at English football’s top table if that was allowed.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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