Nick Miller looks back on all the weekend’s FA Cup matches (stream live in the U.S. on ESPN+). Here are the top takeaways from this past weekend’s action.
Hats off to Shrewsbury
We’ll get to Liverpool in a minute, but before that it’s important to give some unqualified praise to Shrewsbury for a superb comeback in their 2-2 draw on Sunday. Most of us watching quite reasonably thought the game was over when Donald Love scored that own-goal seconds after half-time, and the Shrewsbury players would have been forgiven for thinking similar.
In these situations it’s customary to praise the smaller team’s pluck and spirit, of which Shrewsbury showed plenty, but it’s also worth praising the skill of Josh Laurent, the solidity of the veteran Dave Edwards after he replaced captain Oliver Norburn, and the shrewd way manager Sam Ricketts used the man who got both goals, Jason Cummings.
Cummings is a frequently infuriating but undoubtedly dangerous forward, but after injury problems have dogged him this season it would have been folly to try him from the start. Using him for a burst of half-an-hour was the perfect strategy, and worked beautifully. And for that they get a replay at Anfield which, according to Ricketts, “could change this club’s future.”
Liverpool could have made all their complaints moot
Jurgen Klopp is right about one thing: the scheduling of the FA Cup replays for the middle of the supposed “winter break,” when Premier League clubs have been urged to actually have a break and not use the time to arrange other games, is entirely absurd and you can’t blame him for promising to play the kids in their replay with Shrewsbury.
You could argue it’s disrespectful to the competition or opposition, especially as he won’t be managing the team, but Liverpool have already played 38 games this season (which has included five trips abroad, one of which was to Qatar) and are guaranteed to play at least another 18, probably more. You can’t really blame him for sacking this one off.
But of course he and his team could have made all of this moot by not throwing away a 2-0 lead against the 16th-best team in League One. After the own-goal in the first minute of the second half, Liverpool almost seemed to lose interest in the game, thinking it was in the bag and that there’s no way they could make a mess of this. But make a mess of it they did, allowing Shrewsbury to get back into the game and not actually putting it out of sight.
Sure, this was a second-string team, but it featured five full internationals from the start and another three came off the bench, a defender who played in the last World Cup final and another who scored the clincher in the last Champions League final.
This is perhaps where the Liverpool “aura” can become a problem, that after this astounding season players allow themselves to feel bulletproof and think that victories will take care of themselves. It hasn’t happened much this season, but they must ensure it doesn’t happen again.
They should’ve had more than enough to win, but they didn’t and now here we are. Ultimately, Liverpool have only themselves to blame for having to face another replay.
Manchester United did something right!
It feels like damning with faint praise, but while other top-flight teams laboured against League One opposition, Manchester United took care of a similar task with the utmost efficiency. Against a Tranmere side that had just beaten Premier League opposition, on an abysmal pitch and with their general propensity for calamity, you could easily see United making a mess of this one, but they didn’t. Small victories by big margins for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in this lopsided 6-0 win.
Guardiola needs to stop criticising his own fans
“Today was not full — I don’t know why,” said Pep Guardiola about the attendance at Manchester City’s 4-0 win over Fulham. “Hopefully our fans can come [to the Carabao Cup semifinal against Manchester United on Wednesday], more people than today. Hopefully they can support us more and make an intelligent game to reach the final.”
It gets quite difficult to defend those in football against accusations that they have no idea how the real world works when one of them says something like this. It’s January, people are still paying for Christmas, City have already played four home games this month and have another in mid-week, they’ll have more FA Cup games to come, probably the Carabao Cup final and the Champions League returns in a few weeks. It should be pretty obvious why plenty of people decided not to pay to attend a game that was on free-to-air TV in England, against second-tier opposition at 1pm on a Sunday.
But Guardiola has form for this sort of thing. He complained about the apparently disappointing number of fans City took to last season’s FA Cup semifinal against Brighton, either not caring or entirely unaware that it was one of 14 trips to Wembley that City have made since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover (16 actually, if you throw in the games when the national stadium was Tottenham’s temporary home), and that getting down to London for these occasions is an extremely expensive business.
It’s as if Guardiola thinks that City are entitled to the support of an unquestioning public, that he has constructed this beautiful superteam and the people of Manchester are ungrateful serfs for choosing not to spend their money on watching every single game.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he A. simply has absolutely no concept of how expensive following football is, and B. that people are under no obligation to spend their money on watching City, particularly when their own manager seems so contemptuous of them.
West Ham have big problems
On paper the team top of the Championship beating the team fourth-bottom of the Premier League barely even qualifies as an upset, but that shouldn’t be used as mitigation by David Moyes or West Ham.
West Brom haven’t actually won a league game since the middle of December, their two best attacking players were absent with Grady Diangana injured (and on loan from West Ham anyway) and Matheus Pereira suspended, manager Slaven Bilic made six other changes from their last league game and they played the last 20 minutes with 10 men.
Despite all that, not only did West Ham contrive to lose the game, but they only had three shots on target and gave away enough chances that the margin of victory should probably have been bigger.
It’s safe to say the new manager bounce has worn off at the London Stadium. In fact, it lasted two games, and their best result in the other four was a 1-1 draw with Everton. It’s been widely noted that, after making two substitutions at half-time against Leicester last time out, Moyes made three at the break in this game. If you’re being generous you could say it shows a decisive manager prepared to admit his mistakes, but more realistically it just shows a manager making mistakes.
It’s Liverpool next for the Hammers, on Wednesday. They’re currently separated from the relegation zone on goal difference, and you wouldn’t be surprised if they achieved the almost impressively incompetent feat of slipping down a place despite nobody else playing.
Lo Celso shows why Spurs are buying him
It’s hardly a surprise that Tottenham are taking up their option on signing Giovani Lo Celso on a permanent deal, particularly with the Christian Eriksen saga dragging itself slowly to a conclusion. His run to set up Son Heung-min’s goal against Southampton was almost worth paying the fee for on its own, and the best bit wasn’t even him beating four men then playing the forward in.
If you watch the run, you’ll see that just before he passes to Son he could have played Erik Lamela in. But the Argentinean had drifted slightly offside — not by much, but enough. Lo Celso could easily have missed that and played the pass anyway, but he spotted it and delayed accordingly. A small moment, but one that suggests Spurs have their Eriksen replacement already in house.
What more could this mean for Norwich?
Survival does look like a long-shot for Norwich, but might their win over Burnley help with that? They have only won one away game in the Premier League this season, but this victory is their third in the last five games. Could this be … momentum of some description?
Is Frank Lampard overplaying Mount?
Mason Mount is only 21 years old. Before this season he had never played a minute for Chelsea’s first-team, but this season the only outfielder to play more than him is Cesar Azpilicueta. He’s appeared in every Premier League game and every Champions League game. For someone so young and who will inevitably need a degree of protection, a cup game like Chelsea’s trip to Hull would seem like the ideal place to give him a breather, but instead he started and played 68 minutes.
On the one hand it’s good that Frank Lampard trusts youngsters like Mount, but on the other it seems like he’s only creating problems for himself and the player by overplaying him.