Although lacking the whimsical nature of it’s immediate predecessor, there’s something to be said for the Fourth Round of the FA Cup – this year’s edition seeing three Premier League sides held to a draw or defeat by teams from the Football League.
Throw in some gorgeous goals, heroic performances, VAR controversy and even a red card for spitting, and the weekend’s FA Cup action was littered with contentious talking points. Football FanCast run the rule over the most significant by looking at the biggest winners and losers from the Fourth Round…
An FA Cup clash right at the end of the transfer window was always going to be something of an audition for Hull City’s highly-rated youngster Jarrod Bowen, but especially with scouts from reportedly no less than eight Premier League clubs attending the KCOM Stadium to run the rule over him. And it’s safe to say the 21-year-old, currently amid his first full season in the Tigers’ first team, passed with flying colours, scoring Hull’s first and assisting the second in a 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest.
The youngster is proving himself to be a real match winner and, assuming we won’t see a deal completed before Wednesday’s transfer deadline, he’ll be desperate for Hull to draw a Premier League club in the next round to showcase his talents against top flight opposition as well.
Jurgen Klopp has now been eliminated from the FA Cup during the Fourth Round for all three of his campaigns as Liverpool manager and in the process, he’ll probably miss out on bringing some much-needed silverware to Anfield for a third consecutive season as well.
Indeed, Liverpool’s home defeat to West Brom has left the Reds with only a top four finish and a solid run in the Champions League to play for. In more bad news for Klopp though, it also means he’s once again slipped behind predecessor Brendan Rodgers for winning returns as Liverpool manager, tasting one less victory than the now-Celtic boss after 134 games in charge.
Arthur Masuaku’s ‘despicable’ spit, to quote David Moyes, compounded what was a dreadful afternoon for West Ham up at Wigan Athletic as the Irons produced easily their worst performance of the Scot’s short tenure thus far. The Hammers didn’t manage a single shot on target against the League One side and finished up with just 48% possession, and Masuaku’s shocking spit early in the first half was symptomatic of their frustrations.
While Moyes will be quietly relieved he no longer needs to contend with an FA Cup run as well as a relegation battle though, the ninety minutes cost West Ham dearly. Including Masuaku’s six-game suspension for spitting and Pedro Obiang’s first-half injury, the east Londoners now have an incredible 13 players either injured or banned ahead of a week in which they face fellow relegation candidates Crystal Palace and Brighton.
The Alexis Sanchez era at Old Trafford will be a frighteningly exciting one if the former Arsenal star’s Manchester United debut is anything to go by.
While the League Two side hardly represented the most formidable of opposition, Newport County’s draw with Tottenham shows how difficult these ties can be, even for England’s top clubs. But United surged to a 4-0 victory with aplomb and Sanchez was at the performance’s beating heart, providing the ingenuity the Red Devils have often lacked between the midfield and the attack this season.
Perhaps more crucially, United remain in the hunt for their likeliest chance of silverware this season after being eliminated from the League Cup by Bristol City.
Tottenham may have drawn with Newport County in the end as Harry Kane came to the rescue but the cost is arguably greater than a defeat for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. The Lilywhites were due to play Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Juventus in their next four games but the middle two contests will now have the Fourth Round replay with Newport County sandwiched in between as well.
That gives Tottenham three days less to prepare for the North London derby, not to mention creates a run of five matches in the space of 14 days, and although Pochettino will fancy his second string to beat Newport in the relative comfort of Wembley, it’s nonetheless a drain on his resources at the worst possible time. On three fronts – the top four battle, the FA Cup and the Champions League – the next fortnight will define Tottenham’s season.
Riyad Mahrez didn’t kick a ball during the Fourth Round, instead watching on from the bench as Leicester City ripped apart Peterborough in a 5-1 romping. But it’s no secret the Algerian playmaker has sought a big move in recent summers and the Foxes’ reluctance to let their talismanic star leave may have waned substantially over the course of Saturday’s early kickoff as 22-year-old Fousseni Diabate produced a stunning debut performance for his new club that was very much in the Mahrez mould.
Indeed, the Malian midfielder provided an abundance of creativity and netting prowess, scoring twice and conjuring up four chances, while continuously marauding through the Posh defence with the ball at feet. It’s still early days in his King Power Stadium career but with a successor seemingly at the club already, Leicester may feel far more open to bids for Mahrez when the summer transfer window comes around.
West Brom appeared to have turned a corner under Alan Pardew some time ago and those subtle improvements reached something of a climax at Anfield on Saturday night as the Baggies scored three goals in a single game for only the second time this season, the other being against Accrington Stanley, to claim their third victory in four games across all competitions.
The performance was clear evidence of the much-needed positivity Pardew has brought to the Hawthorns and just rewards for the good work for he’s done since replacing Tony Pulis. And although Pardew probably doesn’t want an FA Cup run to deal with in the middle of a scrap for survival, that emphatic win at Anfield will give the Baggies huge confidence ahead of a run of fixtures that includes Southampton, Huddersfield and Watford in their next five games.
For the second round in a row, VAR appeared to cause almost as many problems as it solved in the FA Cup.
After Norwich and Chelsea’s replay at Stamford Bridge drew criticism for VAR’s failure to bring a challenge defender Timm Klose later admitted was a penalty to the attention of the referee, Liverpool and West Brom’s Fourth Round clash provided a glimpse of the opposite end of the spectrum, with official Craig Pawson turning to video technology three times in the first half to ironic chants of VAR from bemused spectators.
On the one hand, VAR did mean every big decision in the game was eventually the right one, but on the other, it slowed down the match considerably, dampening the atmosphere, and the lack of communication became increasingly frustrating.
Baggies gaffer Pardew even believes the stoppages in play lead to two hamstring injuries for his players, unveiling yet another unforeseen consequence of the new system.
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