FA Cup 5th Round
At the beginning of February, Manchester City lost their 100% record at home in the Premiership when Chelsea beat them 1-0 at the Etihad, but last Saturday they progressed to the quarter-final of the FA Cup when they defeated Jose Mourinho’s men 2-0 on the same ground, with Stevan Jovetić and Sami Nasri scoring the goals. There was also a measure of revenge for Arsenal in the tournament, as they overcame another shaky start against Liverpool – who had beaten them 5-1 at Anfield less than two weeks before, but could not take their chances early on at the Emirates – to progress with a 2-1 win over Brendan Rodgers’ side. While Daniel Sturridge had missed a couple of clear-cut chances before there were even ten minutes on the clock, the Gunners good fortune continued in the second half when Howard Webb, who had already awarded Liverpool one penalty, did not point to the spot for a second time when Luis Suarez was check to the ground by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For their tie against Sunderland, Southampton made six changes to their normal starting XI and were subsequently beaten 1-0 by the Black Cats. Afterwards the Saints assistant manager, Jesus Perez, said they were not unhappy to be out of the competition – but why on earth would they think this? They had no European football to contend with in midweek, they sit in no-man’s land in the table – 15 points above the relegation zone, 14 below the top 4 – what makes them think they should not try their best to win a trophy? It makes no sense why they rested players and expressed relief to have exited the FA Cup – if I was a Southampton fan, especially one who had paid to make the long trip to the northeast to support the team, I would be absolutely lived with that type of thinking. If the Saints think they are too good for the FA Cup, maybe they can return their winners’ medals from 1976, the one time in the club’s history they have lifted a major trophy.
In the other ties, I am not sure if Wigan’s 2-1 win at Cardiff counts as an upset – they are a division below the Welsh side, but are the current FA Cup holders – but the Lactics progressed to the quarter-finals, where they will meet the team they beat in last year’s final, Manchester City. League One’s Sheffield United beat former European Champions, Nottingham Forest 3-1 and, if Sheffield Wednesday can overcome Charlton in their re-arranged match on Monday, there will be a Steel City derby in the last eight. Elsewhere, Brighton and Hull will require a replay after the Premiership side salvaged a 1-1 draw with a late equalizer from Yannick Sagbo; and Everton’s reward for knocking out Swansea is a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals.
In the Champions League, Manchester City lost at home for just the third time in all competitions this season, as Barcelona joined Bayern Munich and Chelsea as the only teams to win there (actually the only sides not to get beaten, they have been no draws at the Etihad this campaign – the only ground in the English leagues not to have had any ties). Facing Barcelona – who are experts at keeping the ball and have one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi – is always going to be tough, but City’s job was made exponentially harder when they were reduced to 10 men early in the second half as Martin Demichelis was sent off for a foul on the Argentinian forward that was adjudged to have been just inside the box. Messi brushed himself off and converted the subsequent penalty and from then on, Manuel Pelligrini’s men just tried to hold out from conceding again, managing to do that until the last-minute, when Dani Alves broke through and put the tie almost certainly out of City’s reach.
The following night, the story of the Arsenal vs Bayern Munich tie was so similar to the City vs Barcelona game, I could virtually copy and paste the second half of the paragraph above and just change the team names. However, it could have been very different – in the opening 15 minutes, the Gunners looked strong and could have been two up, but Mesut Özil missed a penalty and then Martin Neuer did very well to deny Oxlade-Chamberlain. Those wasted chances cost Arsene Wenger’s men dearly, as virtually the rest of the game was dominated by Bayern, who got an added bonus when the home side had their goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny dismissed for a foul on Arjen Robben in the penalty area. Although they missed the subsequent penalty, from then on it only looked like when the reigning champions would score rather than if and they eventually took the lead in the 54th minute through a wonderful strike by Toni Kroos. Despite lots of pressure and chances, it took them until the final minutes to put the tie seemingly beyond Arsenal’s reach when the fantastic Thomas Müller – who incomprehensibly cannot got into the starting lineup of this stacked Bayern team, when he would be the best player at most other clubs – headed in a cross from Phillip Lahm to make it 2-0. Last season, the Gunners won 2-0 at the Allianz Arena – which was not quite enough as they exited the competition on away goals – but the way they were dominated on Wednesday night suggests it will be very hard for them to repeat that feat. In the Premiership, Arsenal are considered one of the best passing sides, but Bayern enjoyed 79% of the possession in the first leg – admittedly aided by having an extra man – and completed 863 versus 222 for the home side.
The other two Champions League ties ended 1-0 to Atletico Madrid over AC Milan, while Paris Saint Germain triumphed 4-0 in Germany against Bayer Leverkusen, as the away sides – who were all topped their groups in the previous round – all won with the aggregate score being 0-9 in favor of the visiting quartet. In the Europa League, Spurs faced their former manager, Juande Ramos as they travelled to the Ukraine – though away from the troubled capital of Kiev – and were lucky to come away with only a 1-0 defeat as the home side dominated proceedings, but they could have been even better for Tottenham had Roberto Soldado managed to put the ball into an open goal from five yards out. In the other tie involving a British team, Swansea earned an impressive 0-0 draw in their home math with Napoli, with both them and Spurs playing the return games next week, while in the Champions League Manchester United and Chelsea have the first leg of their round of 16 matches on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Premiership Weekend Preview
All of the top four in the Premiership have home matches this weekend, with the leaders Chelsea having the toughest looking match as they face Everton, who beat them 1-0 at Goodison Park earlier in the season. Arsenal will hope to rebound from their defeat to Bayern when they face Sunderland, who are still battling on three fronts: they have the League Cup final in two weeks’ time; are in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup; and the Black Cats are fighting relegation as they currently sit third from bottom. Despite having scored 117 times in all competitions this season, Manchester City will be looking for their first Premiership goal in February when they face Stoke; while Brendan Rodgers faces his old club as Swansea head to Anfield to play fourth placed Liverpool. With fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool to come in March, Spurs will be hoping to strengthen their bid for a top four spot when they travel to Norwich on Sunday, but their record on weekends after a Thursday Europa League game so far this season is not good: Played 8; Won 3; Drawn 1; Lost 4. Elsewhere, cup-quitters Southampton travel to West Ham, who have not conceded a goal in their last four matches and have won their last three 2-0; Fulham – who have appointed yet another new manager, I think it is my turn next but it is currently (at the time of writing at least) Felix Magath – are away at West Brom; Crystal Palace host Manchester United; there is a rebranding derby between the Cardiff City RedBlueBirds and the Hull City Tigers; and Newcastle will go for their fifth straight home defeat when they play Aston Villa.
Last time, 5-3 (2 games postponed, will add on when the fixtures are rearranged); Season, 132-126
Home teams listed first
Chelsea vs Everton – Home win
Arsenal vs Sunderland – Home win
Cardiff vs Hull – Draw
Manchester City vs Stoke – Home win
West Brom vs Fulham – Away win
West Ham vs Southampton – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Manchester United – Away win
Liverpool vs Swansea – Home win
Newcastle vs Aston Villa – Draw
Norwich vs Tottenham – Draw