Nick Miller recaps a topsy-turvy weekend, with Premier League and FA Cup semifinal action serving up another football feast.
Jump to: Klopp’s Hendo love | Arsenal’s travelling woes | Subbed to the Wolves | Team of the Week | Deulo delight | Deeney’s Jimenez smackdown | Brighton back to business | How disappointing are Burnley?
Expectation-quasher of the weekend
How seriously should we take Pep Guardiola’s assertion that it’s “almost impossible” to win the Quadruple?
Naturally, Guardiola’s proclamation after Manchester City reached the FA Cup final by beating Brighton 1-0 was an attempt to temper expectations: Only a fool would stride out into a news conference and say this unprecedented clean sweep was theirs for the taking.
“Surviving in that stage of the competitions is already a miracle,” he said. But of course, it is entirely possible.
The natural inclination is to say that City will lose at least one of the three remaining tournaments, but which one? They have a game in hand on Liverpool in the league, are clear favourites to beat Watford in the FA Cup final and have to face an ailing Tottenham in the Champions League followed by Juventus or Ajax.
Some of those tasks will be harder than others, but if you consider each individually, you’d back City to win them all.
Manchester United fans: It’s probably best to prepare yourself for the very strong possibility that City will do it.
Under-appreciated player of the weekend
You don’t always see what Jordan Henderson does when he is on the pitch. But at the same time, you certainly notice when he isn’t. For long spells of Liverpool’s late 3-1 win over Southampton on Friday, they looked like a side without direction, neutrons nervously bouncing all over the place without a nucleus to form around.
Then he came off the bench, and almost straightaway things looked better. Lots of people still don’t think much of Henderson, but one pretty important person does.
“If I had to write a book about Hendo, it would be 500 pages,” Jurgen Klopp said after the game. “The most difficult job in the last 500 years of football was to replace Steven Gerrard … [He] has dealt with that outstandingly well.
“He deserves all the praise, but he doesn’t get too much.”
There will probably be more important players in Liverpool’s title run, but don’t underestimate the contribution of the player under-appreciated by many — but not the man who matters.
Growing problem of the day
Arsenal were so extraordinarily bad in their 1-0 defeat to Everton that it was difficult to peg them as the same team that has shown such positive signs in recent weeks. This was yet another terrible performance away from home, with their run on the road stretching to just one win in nine, and that was against Huddersfield.
This is a problem that has followed Unai Emery around the past few years. It was Paris Saint-Germain’s away form that cost them the Ligue 1 title in 2016-17. They won all 17 of their games at the Parc des Princes but lost five away, which gave Monaco the chance to swoop.
Furthermore, in his final season at Sevilla, his side’s away record read: played 19, won zero, drew nine, lost 10. They scored only 13 goals on the road and were second-bottom of the away league table.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is happening, but Emery must figure it out soon and fix it if he wants this Arsenal team to progress further.
Bad substitution of the day
It’s always a little dangerous to apply post-hoc logic to games, to judge the result rather than the process. But did Nuno Espirito Santo’s substitutions cost Wolves in their 3-2 FA Cup semifinal loss to Watford?
In an understandable attempt to hold on in the closing stages, Nuno removed Diogo Jota and Joao Moutinho, bringing on another central defender and making his side more defensive. But the problem with a side’s shape becoming defensive is that the mentality also becomes negative, which invites the opposition to attack when they needed no encouragement to do so.
Shoring up a backline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s handy if you have a forward outlet, and for most of the game Jota was that outlet, with his directness and tenacity terrifying the Watford backline all day. Without him, extra-time was always going to be a slog.
No, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this had Leander Dendoncker not clumsily lunged into Troy Deeney in the 94th minute. But even if Nuno’s changes didn’t significantly hinder Wolves, they certainly didn’t help them.
Team of the week
Goal of the weekend
Gerard Deulofeu must be an exceedingly frustrating player to support, if only because he tries absolutely implausible things far too often.
But then, one of them comes off, such as his absurd flick/lob/curler/chip to spark Watford’s revival against Wolves, and you forget all the times he shanks those efforts into the stands.
Slap down of the weekend
“I’m glad he put that mask on. He could wear it out now as well, now he’s a loser. So enjoy the mask — we got the victory.”
Troy Deeney’s “proper football man” schtick can get a little tiresome, and you get the sense that every interview is a potential audition for a post-career life as a “tell it like it is” pundit.
But after learning that Raul Jimenez had donned a Mexican wrestling mask to celebrate a goal, only to see his Wolves side lose, we’ll probably allow him this moment of satisfaction.
Platform of the weekend
Brighton are not yet safe from relegation, but perhaps their performance in the FA Cup semifinal defeat to Manchester City will provide some encouragement for the remaining Premier League campaign.
When Gabriel Jesus put Manchester City ahead after just four minutes, you feared the worst for the Seagulls, but they performed well after that and could have forced extra-time.
“On Monday morning, we have to get our Premier League heads on,” said Chris Hughton, the implication being that their FA Cup run has been a distraction.
Now the league is all they have to concentrate on, so hopefully for them, they can use this to get the points they need for survival.
Papered cracks of the weekend
With their 3-1 win over Bournemouth, Burnley should be safe from relegation, barring an absolute catastrophe in the closing weeks of the season. But that shouldn’t distract from the fact that this has been a poor season for Sean Dyche’s side.
They can blame the Europa League campaign if they like, and it’s undoubtedly not ideal to be playing competitive football in July, but they were out of Europe by August.
They have undoubtedly improved a lot since Christmas, but this season has been a terrible disappointment after they finished seventh last term.