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FA Cup Third Round: 10 Talking Points From the Weekend’s Action

FA Cup Third Round: 10 Talking Points From the Weekend’s Action

Wednesday, 8 January, 2020 - 06:45
Dean Smith of Aston Villa; Adam Lallana of Liverpool; Tom Pope of Port Vale. Composite: Getty/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock/Action Images
London - The Guardian

1) Cup caught in destructive bind


Listening to Dean Smith after a second-string Aston Villa’s 2-1 defeat at Fulham, it was hard not to conclude the FA Cup is trapped in a cycle of mutually assured destruction. It had, bar outstanding goals by Anthony Knockaert and Harry Arter, been a turgid afternoon’s football and Smith did not hide the fact he was happy to be spared further distraction. Asked for his feelings about, as the questioner put it, “a great competition”, Smith replied “I think it was, I think it’s lost its sparkle” and went on to cite unfriendly kick-off times and the scheduling of previous finals on the same day as top-flight fixtures. It was a damning use of the past tense and the conundrum is clear: the more managers feel the Cup is not being respected from the top down, the less likely they are to bother with it; the more managers select shadow teams that can barely produce a spectacle, the less likely the authorities are to put the competition back on a pedestal. How can a way out be found? Nick Ames


2) Silverware a real incentive for Leicester


Brendan Rodgers was quick to dismiss the notion that Leicester City have a free hit at the domestic cups because their Premier League rivals are scrambling for a top-four finish but acknowledged reaching the final of a competition would act as a reward for their rapid progress. After an FA Cup third-round victory over Wigan on Saturday, Leicester host Aston Villa in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday and Rodgers recognises the value of going the distance. Leicester won the league four years ago but have not reached a final since winning the League Cup in 2000. “We will fight to get to the final,” said Rodgers, who will welcome back Jamie Vardy following a calf complaint. “And that gives you the opportunity to have something tangible to show for your development over the course of the period.” Ben Fisher


3) Beatable Bravo always offers City’s opponents hope


“It was a little bit awkward,” Tom Pope reflected. “John wouldn’t speak to me.” The post-match meeting of the two teams in the dressing room was affected by the Port Vale top scorer’s tweets about John Stones. Perhaps, however, Claudio Bravo should have been the one giving Pope the silent treatment. Pope converted Vale’s first, and indeed only, effort on target. It is a recurring theme in Bravo’s chastening City career, dating back to his dreadful debut year when Pep Guardiola used to complain his side kept conceding to the first shot without rationalising why. Recently, Liverpool, Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb have scored with their first shots on target against Bravo, Everton and Southampton with their second. Those initial efforts have veered from the unstoppable to the rather stoppable. Whether luckless or useless, Bravo’s presence can seem to gift the opposition a goal head-start and make it feel that City are playing with 10 men. Richard Jolly


4) Wilbraham deserves poignant reward


Rochdale’s life-affirming comeback against Newcastle was a triumph for 40-year-old Aaron Wilbraham, 17-year-old Luke Matheson who created the latter’s equaliser, and Brian Barry-Murphy, whose decision to introduce them as substitutes proved inspired. The manager boldly removed a terrorised Tyler Magloire on 30 minutes for Matheson before Wilbraham entered ahead of the second half and the striker subsequently fired in Matheson’s 79th-minute cross to cancel out Miguel Almirón’s opener. Wilbraham is a 22-year, 10-club veteran who lost his mother to illness last month. Of the equaliser he said: “It meant a lot. My mum was my biggest fan. Obviously for the family and everyone at the moment it’s been a hard time. She drove me everywhere when I was younger in a little brown Fiesta, with about £2.50 petrol money in to make training. I never had my dad around when I was younger so she was the only one.” Jamie Jackson


5) Cup rouses Tranmere and jolts Watford


Tranmere’s three-goal comeback against Watford definitely had something magic about it. A team that had looked down and out and out of their depth gathered themselves and gave their all to get a result. But on the other side, Watford collapsed, with too many youngsters and no sense of collective responsibility. Perhaps, then, what these teams brought to the Cup was as important as what the Cup brought to them. Tranmere’s Micky Mellon believed his team needed a performance to prove they were still on the up after promotion from League Two last year. For Nigel Pearson, however, there was a dispassionate analysis that said defeat was better than losing first-team players to injury. In a sense his point was proven as one rare regular, Nathaniel Chalobah, was forced off at half-time. But the jolt in Watford’s momentum, not to mention a replay in Birkenhead, may come back to bother him yet. Paul MacInnes


6) Solskjær shows teeth despite insipid showing


Ole Gunnar Solskjær revealed a different side of himself before and after his team’s trip to Molineux. On Friday, he reacted to Robin van Persie’s suggestion that he was too nice to manage Manchester United, wielding club legend status by reminding that he, scorer of that goal on that famous night in Barcelona and many others besides, and not the one-season wonder Dutchman, is a true keeper of the faith. It was a baring of teeth that his former colleagues, including an approving Roy Keane, say he has always been capable of. And following a positive post-match verdict on another insipid performance, in which his team hung on for a replay, Solskjær turned his attention back to Van Persie’s criticisms. “There are different ways to motivate and inspire players, and I do not always believe in scaring them to play better,” he said. “After all, we are in 2020.” John Brewin


7) Derby too good to languish so low


Derby County’s victory over Crystal Palace was ultimately another game in which the use of VAR became the main topic of discussion. Rightly so given the potentially pivotal use of the pitchside monitor by the referee, Michael Oliver, but that should not completely take away from an assured display by Phillip Cocu’s men against opponents who sit a division above them. Wayne Rooney was key to that but there were also impressive showings from others in white and black, in particular Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone, and watching on there came the strong sense that Derby have too much experience as well as quality to be 17th in the Championship for much longer. Derby may not reach the play-offs – they are currently eight points off Swansea in sixth – but a serious push up the table should be well within their reach. Sachin Nakrani


8) Abraham’s absence exposes Chelsea’s striking deficiencies


Chelsea’s reliance on Tammy Abraham was underlined again during their victory over Nottingham Forest. With Abraham given a welcome rest Michy Batshuayi was handed a rare start up front and Olivier Giroud was on the bench. Yet Batshuayi struggled to make an impact in general play and Giroud was an unused substitute once again. Lampard is not a fan of either forward and it would be a risk for him not to find cover for Abraham this month, especially as Giroud is desperate to leave. Aston Villa are the latest club to target the former Arsenal striker, with Internazionale, Lyon, Bordeaux and Crystal Palace also interested in striking a deal for the 33-year-old, whose lack of football this season has put his place in the France squad under threat before Euro 2020. Chelsea, who are interested in Red Bull Leipzig’s Timo Werner and Lyon’s Moussa Dembélé, need to find a solution quickly. Jacob Steinberg


9) Lallana has a Liverpool role to play yet


As Everton made desperately heavy weather of a Merseyside derby that looked laid out for them to finally win at Anfield, Liverpool’s oldest outfield head was a key influence in their deep disappointment. Once James Milner had departed prematurely – and worryingly for Jürgen Klopp – Adam Lallana took Milner’s armband and a leadership role he has rarely fulfilled since he gave up the captaincy of Southampton to head north. He nursed his stripling colleagues and debutant Takumi Minamino along as Everton were dominated. Injuries and the claims of other midfielders better suited to Klopp’s style have restricted his impact but with injuries piling up, Lallana may yet play a role in Liverpool’s path to the Premier League title. This is his sixth season at Anfield, more than likely the last, but he reminded he is someone who can be counted upon. JB


10) Mourinho dissects video age


José Mourinho enjoys semantics but, in distinguishing between VAR and what he calls “VR”, Tottenham’s manager made a real, and important, distinction. After lamenting the absence of video technology at the Riverside as Middlesbrough earned a deserved replay (Mourinho believed Ashley Fletcher’s goal should have been disallowed for offside) – he explained that he applauded the idea of a VAR being used to support referees’ decisions. However the system he has seen in use in the Premier League this season is, in practice “VR” – or a dictatorial remote referee. “I like VAR but I don’t like VR and we have VR,” said Mourinho. There was still a time for a detour into semantics, namely when he suggested Tottenham’s squad was so thin and inflexible they were now condemned to “playing without a striker” in Harry Kane’s hamstrung absence. That may surprise both Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min. Louise Taylor


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