After a two-week gap for the F.A. Cup and League Cup to take center stage, the Premier League returns to action this weekend, with the top two teams facing each other on Saturday. Before looking at that Chelsea vs Manchester City game, here’s a recap of what happened in the cup tournaments over the last fortnight.
F.A. Cup 4th Round
Last weekend was possibly the biggest collection of upsets in a single round of the F.A. Cup, none were bigger than the one that occurred at Stamford Bridge. Early on, it seemed as though League One’s Bradford City were going to take a hiding, as they fell behind 2-0 to Chelsea inside half an hour. However, the Bantams pulled one back before half time, then scored three more after the break to record an astonishing 4-2 victory over the current leaders of the Premier League. It was only the second time in either of Jose Mourinho’s spells in charge of the Blues that he has lost at home inside 90 minutes to another club from the English leagues – the other being Sunderland last season.
Manchester City exited the tournament at the exact same time, as they also lost at home to lower division opponents, as Middlesbrough triumphed 2-0 at the Etihad. The reigning champions had returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates less than 24 hours before the match kicked off (in part due to a delayed flight, but mostly because of ridiculous planning to fit in lucrative friendlies in their owner’s home Emirate, Abu Dhabi). However, City still played pretty much their best players, so nothing should be taken away from Boro’s achievement.
In comparison to those two results, Manchester United’s 0-0 draw away at League Two’s Cambridge seems like a positive scoreline, especially since they now have a home replay to try to progress to the fifth round of a wide-open competition. Only United and Arsenal – who overcame a resilient Brighton comeback to win 3-2 – remain in the F.A. Cup out of the current top 6 in the Premier League, since Southampton were beaten 3-2 at home by Palace; while Leicester scored twice in the final 10 minutes to eliminate Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Bolton held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield; Blackburn knocked out Swansea 3-1; and the match between Sunderland and Fulham at the Stadium of Light ended goalless.
League Cup Semi-Finals
Over the last two midweeks, the League Cup semi-finals took place over two legs. In the one that everyone wanted to watch, Chelsea and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield; then the Blues won the second leg at Stamford Bridge 1-0 after extra time to progress to the final. There was (of course) controversy in the match as Diego Costa appeared to stamp on Emre Can, which the F.A. ruled was deliberate and have thus suspended the striker for the next three matches. That decision has (of course) enraged Mourinho, who complained about a conspiracy surrounding his side and…blah blah blah, we’ve heard it all before, Jose.
In the final, Chelsea will face (and beat, easily), Spurs, who survived a late rally by Sheffield United in their second leg on Wednesday. Tottenham had won the first match 1-0, courtesy of an Andros Townsend penalty, then extended their lead in the opening period of the match at Brammal Lane, thanks to a wondrous free-kick by Christian Eriksen. However, two goals in as many minutes by substitute Che Adams had seemed to set up extra-time, until Eriksen latched onto a lovely pass from Harry Kane and sent Spurs on their way to Wembley. The fact that they beat Chelsea 5-3 on New Year’s Day is very significant for the rematch on March first – there is no way lightening will strike twice, so the Blues can prepare to lift more silverware.
So much football has happened in the two weeks since there was league action, I’m actually struggling to remember any of the games that happened then, including Tottenham’s. Before I check, I think it might have been the defeat to Crystal Palace…now let’s see what the BBC website has to say…ah turns out that was the week before and most recently, Spurs beat Sunderland 2-1 at home. Once again, it took a late winner from Eriksen to get all three points for Tottenham, though the most surprising thing about the game was that Jermain Defoe did not score against us on his debut for the Black Cats.
The biggest result of that weekend was Arsenal’s impressive 2-0 away victory against Manchester City, a result that left the reigning champions five points behind Chelsea, who had beaten Swansea 5-0 the day before. Liverpool’s good run continued with a 2-0 win away at goal-shy Aston Villa (11 goals in 22 Premier League fixtures this season: 1 in 2 a good ratio for a striker, bad for an entire club); Manchester United and Southampton solidified their top four places with away successes over QPR and Newcastle respectively; while West Ham returned to form by defeating Hull 3-0. Elsewhere, Leicester lost at home to Stoke, 1-0; Crystal Palace came from 2-0 down to beat Burnley 3-2 (who had also let a 2-0 lead slip against Newcastle in their previous match); while the Monday night fixture between Everton and West Brom ended goalless.
This weekend, all eyes will be on Stamford Bridge, where the Costa-less Chelsea (CONSPIRACY!) take on YaYa Toure-less Manchester City (AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS!), a match that will also see Frank Lampard to return to take on one of his old club’s. The inevitable 2-0 home win (Fabregas 73, Remy 88) will put the Blues eight points clear at the top of the table, allowing them to focus on the Champions League and…Capital One Cup. Dammit. Southampton could move within two points of City by the end of the weekend, as they host Swansea; while Man United are a further two back prior to their home contest against bottom-club, Leicester. Arsenal will be able to play anyone they like in defense, as they entertain Aston Villa; Tottenham travel to Tony Pulis’ West Brom; Liverpool and West Ham meet at Anfield; Hull face Newcastle; and Stoke will be the latest team to beat Queens Park Rangers away from Loftus Road. Alan Pardew will be looking to make it five wins out of five since his return to Crystal Palace, as they take on Everton at Selhurst Park; while the two clubs just a point above the relegation zone, Sunderland and Burnley, face each other at the Stadium of Light.
Last time, 4-6; Season, 100-130 (ouch)
Home teams listed first
Hull vs Newcastle – Draw
Crystal Palace vs Everton – Home win
Liverpool vs West Ham – Draw
Manchester United vs Leicester – Home win
Stoke vs QPR – Home win
Sunderland vs Burnley – Draw
West Brom vs Tottenham – Away win
Chelsea vs Man City – Home win
Arsenal vs Aston Villa – Home win
Southampton vs Swansea – Home win (making my prediction five home wins, but only because I switched two to draws).