In the first major final to be contested in England this season, Manchester City came from behind last Sunday to beat Sunderland 3-1 thanks to second-half goals from YaYa Toure, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas, to lift the League Cup for the first time since 1976. In the first half, the Black Cats more than held their own, took the lead in the tenth minute through Fabio Borini and, for the best part of an hour, they repelled City’s attacks and looked comfortable in doing so. However, in the 55th minute Toure picked up the ball in the middle of the park, played a one-two and then unleashed an unstoppable shot from thirty yards into the top corner of Vito Mannone’s goal. Within 100 seconds, any hopes Sunderland had of repeating Wigan’s success over Manchester City in last season’s FA Cup final were evaporated, as Samir Nasri provided a splendid finish to a nice flowing move by Manuel Pelligrini’s men to move them in front for good. Late on, Darren Fletcher had a great chance to equalize for Sunderland, but failed to pull the trigger when he was in front of goal and, moments later, City broke on a counter attack and Navas put the result beyond any doubt and gave Pelligrini his first trophy in European football.
While they are still in line for a domestic cup double, Manchester City find themselves dropping down the league table as they currently sit fourth and could be as many as 12 points behind Chelsea the next time they take the field for a Premiership match…albeit with four games in hand on the leaders. While City were winning the League Cup last weekend, Jose Mourinho’s men overcame a poor first half to beat Fulham 3-1, with Andre Schurrle scoring a hat-trick and Eden Hazard continuing his player-of-the-season form by pulling the strings in the midfield, providing assists for two of the goals. That victory extended Chelsea’s advantage at the top to four points over Arsenal, who once again came unstuck at Stoke as they were beaten 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium through a late Jonathan Walters penalty, although the award of the spot kick for handball by Laurent Koscielny was very harsh on the visitors. As they tend to do against the Gunners – and many other sides – Stoke adopted a physical approach to the game and Charlie Adam in particular (who I have previously mentioned as being a dirty tackler, as he has injured Gareth Bale (twice, once in a pre-season friendly in Baltimore) and Paulinho) was putting in some nasty challenges, one of which on Olivier Giroud has resulted in a three game ban for the midfielder.
With Arsenal stalling, Liverpool were able to strengthen their position in the top four and are now second in the table on goal difference, after Luis Suarez scored for the first time in six matches, then set up Rahim Sterling and won a penalty that Steven Gerrard converted to give the Reds a 3-0 victory at Southampton. One of the biggest advantages that Liverpool have over the other three title contenders is that they only have their 10 Premiership fixtures remaining this season, while Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all have Champions League ties left to play and the first two are still in the FA Cup. In the race for Europa League places – which now includes sixth place thanks to City’s victory in the League Cup – Everton moved three points clear in of an inactive Manchester United, as they beat West Ham by a single goal scored by Romelu Lukaku on his return from injury; while Spurs consolidated fifth spot with a 1-0 victory over struggling Cardiff, with Roberto Soldado scoring from open play in the league for the first time in the Premiership. Still, not like his cost £26.5m or anything…
At the bottom of the table, Fulham and Cardiff’s defeats leave them in danger of being cut adrift in the relegation zone, while Swansea and Crystal Palace both remain in trouble following a 1-1 draw in South Wales. The perennially troubled Chris Hughton may well lose his job sooner rather than later after his Norwich team were thrashed 4-1 by Aston Villa, with all of the goals coming in from the first half. Even though the Canaries took the lead, the manager would not have enjoyed that moment as the scorer, Wes Hoolahan, did not celebrate as he had seen a move to Villa collapse during the January transfer window and has openly criticized the club for whom he still plays (and who pay him).
In the other game last weekend, Newcastle beat Hull 4-1, scoring as many goals in those 90 minutes as they had in their previous six Premiership fixtures, but still found a way to make the headlines about the club negative. The Magpies’ manager, Alan Pardew, was sent to the stands after aiming a headbutt at Hull’s David Meyler and he is has been fined £100,000 by his club and is likely to face a lengthy touchline – or perhaps even stadium – ban as a result of the incident. To be fair to Pardew, it was not as if he actually hurt Meyler and it was just a moment of madness, it is not like he has any previous examples of touchline rage. I mean except for when he squared up to Arsene Wenger while he was manager of West Ham. Oh and he pushed an assistant referee in a game against Tottenham in September 2012. Plus last month he called Manuel Pelligrini a “f*cking old c*nt during a Newcastle vs Manchester City match. Apart from all of those incidents, this was completely a one-off and I am sure the FA will agree when they give him a double-digit game ban from the touchlines.
FA Cup and Premiership Weekend Preview
The FA Cup has reached the quarter-final stage and the highlight of this weekend’s ties is the first one to be played, as Arsenal take on Everton at the Emirates, where earlier in the season the two teams played out a 1-1 draw in the Premiership. The other fixtures see a repeat of last year’s final, as Manchester City host the holders, Wigan; Sunderland have the chance to return to Wembley if they can beat Hull; and Sheffield United face Charlton, meaning there will be at least one representative from outside the top flight in the semi-final lineup.
In the Premiership this weekend, the biggest fixture is at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea host Tottenham, although the actual game will likely be something of a formality. Spurs, who also play Arsenal and Liverpool this month, hence my willingness to write them out of the top four race, have not won at Chelsea’s ground since February 1990 and Mourinho has never lost a home match in the Premiership, so really this is a question of how many the Blues will win by, unfortunately. Elsewhere, West Brom face Manchester United – the corresponding fixture last season ended 5-5 and the Baggies won at Old Trafford earlier in this campaign; the bottom two meet in the Welsh capital as Cardiff take on Fulham; Crystal Palace entertain Southampton; and Stoke travel to Norwich. Finally, there is European action during the week as Arsenal and Manchester City attempt to overturn 2-0 deficits away at Bayern Münich and Barçelona respectively; while Spurs have the first leg of their last 16 Europa League tie against Benfica on Thursday.
Last week, 3-5; Season, 141-135
Home teams listed first
West Brom vs Manchester United – Away win
Cardiff vs Fulham – Draw
Crystal Palace vs Southampton – Home win
Norwich vs Stoke – Away win
Chelsea vs Tottenham – Away win…I can dream at least.