“I’m not happy. There was a lack of personality, a lack of class, and a lack of desire”. A Manchester United fan following their exit to Sevilla in the Champions League during the week? The same Manchester United fan having watched United huff and puff to a victory over Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup Quarter Final on Saturday night? No, no. United fans are too busy moaning to the FA about Tottenham having an “unfair” advantage playing the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley. That quote comes from the manager who is paid handsomely to recruit character, teach class and motivate them to have more desire than a cold teapot. Yes, Jose is calling out his players in public once more.
Not content with dropping Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, Jose called his players “scared” in the post-match press conference. I don’t think they are scared Jose, I think they have just realised that you are yesterday’s man. United beat Brighton 2-0 with a goal late in each half from a rare attack in each half. Watching United is not fun, not fun at all.
I’ll tell you what is fun, though. Watching that Jose reject Mohamed Salah. He scored four for Liverpool against Watford in a 5-0 thrashing at Anfield. Yes, yes I know United are ahead of Liverpool in the league but seriously, who would you rather watch if you were being neutral. Liverpool have scored 4 in a game several times this season, 5 at least twice and 7 twice as well. United don’t even get that many shots in on target during a whole match. Watford could tell what kind of evening it was going to be when Miguel Britos slipped over in the snow like a toddler not quite accustomed to the slippery conditions and Salah scored after three minutes. And don’t forget folks, this is Watford in March. They don’t launch a comeback.
Chelsea’s performance at Barcelona makes a lot more sense now as they were clearly making sure they had enough gas in the tank to beat Leicester City in extra time. Alvaro Morata will now fully understand why he was on the bench in the Camp Nou as he started at the King Power and put Chelsea ahead, only to see Jamie Vardy equalise. It was Pedro who scored the goal that takes Chelsea back to Wembley once again.
Swansea City could have treated their FA Cup Quarter Final with Tottenham Hotspur as a bit of fun, but instead, they decided to give Spurs a bye. Christian Eriksen glided around the pitch like a man delighted to see snow in the air and pretty much beat the opposition on his own. Tottenham are facing several weeks without Harry Kane, but that did not matter as they eased to a 3-0 win. Tottenham’s reward is United at home, sorry Wembley, in the semi-final.
Over in the Premier League, Sham Allarfarce had suggested that Cenk Tosun was taking time to adjust to the weather in England hence him not being picked from the word go following his arrival from Besiktas. Really, Sam? Really? On Saturday Tosun scored twice in a blizzard in Stoke which, as well all know, is the ultimate test for a continental footballer to prove himself “adapted” to the English conditions. What is it with Everton managers not backing the strikers who can score goals? Koeman was the same with Oumar Niasse. And he got sacked. Everton fans can dream of the same fate for Allardyce, I suppose. As for Stoke City? They look destined for the drop (as I think I said before the season started). Charlie Adam was on TV a little while ago talking about how is “mentally strong” enough for a proper relegation fight. Since that appearance, Adam has missed a last-minute penalty costing his side three points and been sent off in the first half leaving his side down to ten for an hour. Granted, the amount of actual running around Adam does nowadays means most of the time Stoke are playing with ten, but his red card on Saturday for hitting Rooney late meant Paul Lambert chose to withdraw Shaqiri, the one player that could actually keep Stoke in the league.
Mark Hughes is still Stoke through and through, however, and has come up with a novel way to keep his former club in the Premier League. He has taken over at Southampton which many suggest means Stoke’s chances of survival have improved tenfold. Plus, Sparky gets to keep using his red and white tie which is a bonus for everyone. No matter how much Southampton tried to disguise themselves in green and black against the League One giant-killers you could tell it was them as soon as they started playing. Mind you, you could also argue that they looked a little bit like Stoke. Wigan dominated the first half but failed to score. Of course, that meant that Southampton would win the second half, which they did, and Mark Hughes gets to lead his new side out against Chelsea at Wembley next month.
The biggest question of the weekend surrounds Alan Pardew. How on earth was he still in the dugout for the game with Bournemouth considering the board had “crisis talks” with him last Monday? Well, if they’ve made it a weekly review there is no way on earth he can walk out of the next meeting without a P45. WBA led 1-0 with 13 minutes to go and there was very loose talk of the relegation escape starting. 13 minutes later, WBA had lost 2-1 and any glimpse of staying up was gone (not that it was really ever there). Pardew did look like a broken man in his post-match conversation and, in fairness, his players did actually try this week. Still, trying isn’t enough so ta-ra Pards!
Wilf Zaha was back in action for Crystal Palace against Huddersfield Town and Palace won – there must be some kind of link. Roy Hodgson’s men won 2-0 and must have confidence in the fact that Southampton, Stoke and maybe even West Ham are worse than them and will continue to prove this over the remaining matches.
As for West Ham United, now just one place of the relegation zone, they’ve been in Miami “training”. The Hammers fans will have been delighted to see Andy Carroll on the beach, Patrice Evra by the pool and Joe Hart fumbling his non-alcoholic (we’re sure) cocktails. Back in Blighty, it was “leaked” that Gold & Sullivan would like to bring Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema to the Athletic Stadium next season for £53m. It must be time to renew those season tickets.
And so we start another international break. As I type this, I could not actually tell you who England are playing in the next ten days. But, as I am the consummate professional I checked, and Gareth Southgate is sending his boys into battle against the Netherlands and Italy. Good to see England playing teams that didn’t qualify for the World Cup so they can feel good about themselves. Southgate dropped Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Danny Drinkwater but kept Jake Livermore and Danny Welbeck in the squad meaning, as ever, the England manager does not have a clue. Mind you, he hasn’t got a lot to work with these days. Just don’t pick Joe Hart, please.