x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A red-letter day for David Moyes

The result from Everton's FA Cup match against Sunderland today will determine whether the manager was right in resting players against Liverpool last week.

While most managers rest their players during the FA Cup, David Moyes, the Everton manager, is doing the opposite. Peter Powell / EPA
While most managers rest their players during the FA Cup, David Moyes, the Everton manager, is doing the opposite. Peter Powell / EPA

Taking it one game at a time is one of football's favourite but well-worn cliches, deployed regularly to deflect talk of the long term, of what a team might achieve and what their wider ambitions are.

Sometimes, however, managers do not take it one game a time. Sometimes they look into the future, prioritising one game and sacrificing another. It is a risky policy, one which can backfire badly. It is one that means judgment has to be withheld: whatever the verdict on a weakened team's performance, the approach may be justified if a stronger side wins the match deemed more important.

And that is Everton's hope, that losing to Liverpool with a lesser outfit is overlooked if Sunderland are overcome today, propelling them into the FA Cup semi-finals. For some, it is, and always will be, heresy to downgrade the Merseyside derby. Yet if anything David Moyes was guilty of understatement when branding this "a big week".

Indeed, an 11-day spell containing clashes with Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Sunderland and Arsenal, three of them at Goodison Park, makes it huge. Beat Sunderland, however, and Everton are only 180 minutes away from a first trophy in 17 years.

Resting players in FA Cup weeks is nothing new, but Moyes is going against the grain. Many of his peers spare their premier players an outing in the knockout competition to save them for the Premier League. Indeed, in Moyes' only previous semi-final, in 2009, he encountered a Manchester United side featuring Danny Welbeck, then 18, and Federico Macheda, 17, rather than Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Everton won on penalties, but United lifted the Premier League and reached the Champions League final that season. Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to have few regrets.

And he has more high-quality players to perm from than Moyes, who made six changes at Anfield. Admittedly one of those alterations certainly strengthened the side as Steven Pienaar, ineligible against Tottenham last week and Cup-tied today, returned. But there can be a fine line between squad rotation and naming a weakened team. It is a matter of interpretation and a cause of controversy.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were given a suspended fine of £25,000 (Dh145,210) for making 10 changes when they visited Old Trafford in December 2009. The notion that it was essentially a reserve team was reinforced when they made a further nine for the following game, a 2-0 win against Burnley. Yet while what seemed a second-string side were comfortably beaten, they took six points from the three games that week. To some it was a betrayal of the competition, to others a pragmatic appraisal of the fixture list.

Last season, meanwhile, Blackpool were fined £25,000 for adopting the same approach at Aston Villa. Yet there was a difference: the Seasiders' understudies almost earned a result in an eventful game, James Collins scoring an 89th-minute winner for Villa. Manager Ian Holloway did not carry out his melodramatic threat to resign if the club were punished but nor did they, unlike Wolves, win the next game.

Blackpool went down by one point, so it is a moot point if Holloway made the right move. Three seasons earlier, another relegation-threatened club were unapologetic. Gary Megson left seven first-team players at home when Bolton Wanderers lost at Sporting Lisbon in the Uefa Cup. Wanderers have not been in Europe since, and may not be again, so it was an anticlimactic way to exit. Nor did they reap an immediate reward, taking a solitary point from their next five league games. They stayed up anyhow.

The following year, Aston Villa took the same decision, to the anger of fans who had travelled to Moscow to see them face CSKA. Their bid for a top-four finish took priority; instead it collapsed, Villa failing to win any of their next nine league games. With the benefit of hindsight, it was the beginning of end of the supporters' love affair with manager Martin O'Neill.

There is unlikely to be a repeat at Everton, but after an underwhelming derby display, beating Sunderland becomes more significant.

"After Tuesday's result it puts a little bit more pressure on the Cup," said defender Phil Jagielka.

And after Tuesday's game, we will know if Moyes was right to rotate at Anfield.